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Surging Liberty rally past slumping Storm

Complete 18-point comeback for third straight win

July 26, 2023 John Torenli, Sports Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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WNBA Most Valuable Player candidate Breanna Stewart scored 22 points, Sabrina Ionescu posted her fourth triple-double of the campaign and reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week Jonquel Jones grabbed a season-high 17 rebounds Tuesday night at Downtown’s Barclays Center.

The Eastern Conference-leading New York Liberty would need every bit of it just to overcome an 18-point, second-half deficit against the slumping Seattle Storm.

“I told them ‘It’s a long game. We have to keep competing,'” New York head coach Sandy Brondello recalled after watching her squad rally for an 86-82 triumph over the Storm in front of 6,118 relieved fans on the corner of Atlantic and Flatbush.

The Liberty (17-5), touted as a favorite to emerge from the East as the top challenger to defending WNBA champion Las Vegas this year, are off to the best start in franchise history after their biggest comeback of the season.

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But it certainly didn’t come easy against a Seattle team that opened a 55-37 cushion on Gabby Williams’ 3-pointer with 5:55 remaining in the third quarter.

New York responded with an 11-0 third-quarter run, but couldn’t overtake the Storm until Jones’ 25-foot bank shot sank through with 1:16 left in regulation, giving the Liberty a 79-77 advantage.

“It felt like a playoff game in that second half,” Brondello noted as the crowd rose in waves with every made basket. “We just found a way. We made every possession count. … That’s what you need to do to win.”

Reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week Jonquel Jones grabbed a season-high 17 rebounds Tuesday night. Photo by Brandon Todd/New York Liberty

The Liberty have won three in a row and the first two contests of this season-high four-game homestand, which will continue Thursday night vs. Atlanta.

Minnesota comes in Friday to make up a previously postponed game due to the air quality issues caused by wildfires last month.

That means three games in four days for Brondello’s team, which remained percentage points ahead of Connecticut (18-6) for the top spot in the conference.

“This is a big win for us. We dug ourselves a big hole,” Brondello noted. “The schedule is crazy, but we can’t use that as an excuse. We have to fight.”

They certainly had to Tuesday before handing Seattle its franchise-record 10th consecutive defeat.

Jewell Loyd added to her league-leading scoring average with a game-high 32 points and Ezi Magbegor finished with 22 points and 12 rebounds for the Storm, who suffered their first season-series sweep (0-4) to New York since 2015.

“No one likes to lose and it’s not something that we love to do. No one on this team is OK with losing,” Loyd told the Associated Press Monday.

Ionescu, who tied Candace Parker for the second-most triple-doubles in a WNBA season, completed her night with 12 points, 12 boards and 12 assists despite shooting just 2-of-14 from the floor.

“It’s pretty crazy to have a triple-double on an off night,” jabbed the reigning All-Star 3-Point Shootout champion.

Betnijah Laney scored 19 points and Jones, who was named Player of the Week earlier in the day, added 13 to go with her season-high rebound total as the Liberty got more and more support from their legion of fans as the second-half comeback continued.

“When you have a crowd like ours, you want to have them help you,” noted Stewart, who won two WNBA Finals MVPs with Seattle before coming to Brooklyn this past offseason as a free agent.

“That’s what happened tonight,” she added. “That fourth-quarter run, you could feel it. It was louder.”

Brondello, who stated before the season that the league’s newly formed “Superteam” wouldn’t be content unless it hoisted a championship trophy, wasn’t too interested in hearing about the best 22-game start in Liberty history.

“I’m not big on records anyway,” she said. “I just want to focus on the moment and continue to get better.”

Former Seattle star Breanna Stewart burned her ex-teammates with 22 points as New York won its third straight Tuesday. Photo by Brandon Todd/New York Liberty

GIVE ME LIBERTY: Both Stewart and Jones, seven-year veterans of the WNBA, recorded their 300th career blocked shot during Tuesday’s game. … Ionescu saved her best for last against the Storm, putting up nine points and handing out seven assists in the fourth quarter. … Marine Johannes had 10 points off the bench vs. Seattle, and picked up a career high-tying three steals. … After their homestand concludes here Friday, the Liberty will kick off a three-game road trip with back-to-back games in Los Angeles on Sunday and next Tuesday.

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