Brooklyn Boro

Ionescu flashes All-Star form in Indy

Guard helps Liberty grab Commissioner's Cup berth in OT

July 13, 2023 John Torenli, Sports Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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Two nights before defending her Skills Challenge title in Las Vegas, New York Liberty All-Star point guard Sabrina Ionescu made sure Downtown Brooklyn’s WNBA franchise would meet the Aces for the Commissioner’s Cup crown in August.

Ionescu scored eight of her game-high 34 points in overtime Wednesday as the Liberty clinched the Eastern Conference’s spot in the coveted championship game with a 95-87 victory over the Indiana Fever in front of 6,123 fans at Gainbridge Fieldhouse.

“The entire team leans on her,” New York forward Jonquel Jones said of Ionescu. “We’ve seen it before. She’s a clutch player. … Definitely our go-to person late (in the game).”

The two-time All-Star, who will vie for her second consecutive skills title alongside teammate Courtney Vandersloot Friday night in Sin City, saved her best for last on a day the Liberty (14-4) blew an 18-point, fourth-quarter lead.

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Indiana’s Aliyah Boston forced the extra session by drilling a 3-pointer at the buzzer before Ionescu took over.

She snapped the 80-80 regulation tie by draining a 26-footer off a feed from All-Star Captain Breanna Stewart and connected from 3-point range again with 1:19 remaining to put New York in front 91-87.

Her free throws with 16 ticks left capped the scoring as the Liberty averted potential disaster and earned a berth against Western Conference Commissioner’s Cup representative Las Vegas on Aug. 15.

“I’m not tired, so that’s really what it is,” Ionescu said of her late-game assault. “We push ourselves in practice. The goal is to be the best-conditioned team.”

Ionescu, who scored a career-high 37 points at Atlanta on June 9 by drilling a franchise-record eight 3-pointers, was nearly as prolific in this contest.

She became the second player in league history to shoot at least 50 percent from the floor and 3-point range while hitting all of her attempts from the charity stripe.

Courtney Vandersloot will be in Las Vegas Saturday for the All-Star Game, vying for the Skills Challenge crown with Sabrina Ionescu. AP Photo by Michael Conroy

Ionescu went 9-of-18, including 7-of-14 from beyond the arc, and 9-of-9 at the line. The NCAA’s all-time triple-double machine added six rebounds and five assists as New York won its season high-tying fourth in a row before the annual All-Star break.

Stewart finished with 18 points and 10 rebounds, Jones had 12 points and seven boards and Vandersloot finished with a game-high 12 assists for the Liberty, who looked helpless down the stretch as the Fever went on a 26-9 run bridging the third and fourth periods.

Boston had 23 points and Emma Cannon matched a career best with 19 for Indiana (5-15), which was on the verge of snapping a season-high seven-game skid before Ionescu’s late heroics.

“I think we just weathered the storm,” the University of Oregon alum noted.

“We took our foot off the gas a little and they capitalized on that opportunity,” Ionescu added. “I’m happy we buckled down in overtime, but we should have been able to do it in four quarters.”

Betnijah Laney, who was a team-high plus-17 during her 34 minutes on the hardwood, scored 10 points for the Liberty, who will be off until they return to Barclays Center on July 19 to host the Dallas Wings.

“The breaks good for everyone probably,” said New York coach Sandy Brondello. “Come back and have a new season and get ready for the next one.”

Betnijah Laney and the Liberty will head into this weekend’s All-Star break on a season high-tying four-game winning streak. AP Photo by Michael Conroy

GIVE ME LIBERTY: Stewart, a front-runner for WNBA MVP honors, posted her 10th double-double of the season. … Ionescu has had two games this season in which she registered at least 20 points, six rebounds and five assists. … After hosting the Wings in Brooklyn, the Liberty will travel to Washington, D.C., on July 21 to take on the Mystics.

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