Liberty making a run at WNBA’s top seed
Close in on league-leading Aces after Barclays Center win
Getting ever nearer to securing the best record in the Eastern Conference, the New York Liberty have even bigger goals in mind.
Sabrina Ionescu scored 17 of her game-high 25 points in the first half as New York beat league-leading Las Vegas, 94-85, Monday night before a record-setting crowd of 11,615 at Downtown’s Barclays Center.
With the win, the Liberty (28-7) moved within 1 1/2 games of the Aces (30-6) for the top seed in next month’s WNBA playoffs with five games to play.
They also earned a 2-2 split of their regular-season series with Vegas while holding a plus-17 edge in scoring differential.
That does not count New York’s Commissioner’s Cup triumph over the Aces at Michelob ULTRA Arena on Aug. 15.
“It was like a mini-series for us in the season,” noted Ionescu, who drilled five 3-pointers.
“It was nice to be able to see how we’ve been able to come our every single game and make those adjustments in real time and continue to get better through these games (against Vegas).”
The Liberty have won three of the last four meetings with the Aces, who suddenly aren’t a lock for the No. 1 seed.
″Making sure that we’re all aware that every moment matters,” said Liberty forward and league Most Valuable Player candidate Breanna Stewart after finishing with 20 points, 12 rebounds, seven assists, three steals and a pair of blocked shots.
The former two-time WNBA Finals MVP during her years in Seattle has eclipsed the Liberty’s all-time record for points and rebounds in a season.
She also is the only player in league history with three 40-point games in a single year, making her debut season here one to remember.
But the ultimate prize, the franchise’s first championship, won’t be decided until October.
Between now and then, Stewart and her teammates are taking care of business, having won all but one of their last dozen contests.
“We have to make sure we don’t miss opportunities,” added Stewart. “It’s the experience, it’s having been in these big moments in playoff-type situations, and continuing to build off that.”
New York is four lengths ahead of second-place Connecticut (24-11) for the right to call to call itself regular-season champs of the East. The Liberty have already secured the regular-season series vs. the Sun, who will be in Brooklyn on Friday night.
The Aces, who were finishing off a grueling road trip in which they played four games in seven days as well as making a stop at the White House to celebrate last year’s WNBA crown, got 24 points from Jackie Young and 23 from A’ja Wilson.
None of it was enough to ward off a Liberty team that is now nipping at their heels while playing its best basketball of the year.
“This was our 11th game in 23 days,” Aces coach Becky Hammon conceded. “That’s two trips to the East coast. That’s a lot. plus a trip to the White House.”
Betnijah Laney scored 17 points and Courtney Vandersloot added 17 points and 10 assists for New York, which overcame an early 16-7 deficit with a 31-10 run that spanned the opening two quarters.
“The whole game, I felt pretty confident we had good control,” said Vandersloot.
“After our slow start, we picked things up defensively and were scoring in transition. I think we had a really good grasp on the game the entire time.”
GIVE ME LIBERTY: Stewart, who is likely battling Wilson for the MVP this year, has posted 17 double-doubles. Her rebound with 1:26 left in the third quarter gave her the all-time Liberty record of 322 for a single campaign. … Vandersloot has a WNBA record 15 career games with at least 15 points and 10 assists. … Though she only managed four points in Tuesday’s win, Jonquel Jones grabbed 10 boards to help New York to a 43-31 rebounding advantage. … After hosting the Sun Friday, the Liberty will begin a two-game road trip in Chicago on Sunday afternoon.
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