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Liberty try to eclipse Sun at Barclays Center

New York can secure No. 2 seed Friday night vs. Connecticut

August 31, 2023 John Torenli, Sports Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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The New York Liberty still have hopes of reeling in the Las Vegas Aces for the top overall seed in next month’s WNBA playoffs.

But a victory over the Connecticut Sun at Downtown’s Barclays Center Friday night will at least assure them of first place in the Eastern Conference during this banner year and no worse than the No. 2 slot in the postseason.

Playing their best basketball of the season and coming off their third win in four meetings with the league-leading Aces (30-6) this month, the Liberty (28-7) can eclipse the Sun’s hopes of finishing first and complete a 4-0 season-series sweep of last year’s conference champions.

“We have to make sure we don’t miss opportunities,” WNBA Most Valuable Player candidate Breanna Stewart said after Monday’s 94-85 win over Vegas Monday here in Brooklyn.

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“It’s the experience, it’s having been in these big moments in playoff-type situations, and continuing to build off that.”

New York has won all but one of its last 12 contests while grabbing the Commissioner’s Cup crown on Aug. 15 in Vegas during this spectacular run.

The Liberty, who failed to win five games in a row at any point this season before mid-August, are suddenly seeking their second such streak since July 30.

They won a season-high six straight from July 30-Aug. 13.

Though they were tabbed a preseason favorite to reach the WNBA Finals and have been touted one of the league’s “Super Teams”, it took some time for the Liberty to develop as a formidable unit, much less one that is threatening to bring home the franchise’s first-ever title.

“Time together. That’s the growth,” coach Sandy Brondello noted when asked about her team’s late-season development. “The more time we spend together that we can work out how we want to execute.

“These players they want to win. That kind of helps,” she added.

Coach Sandy Brondello hopes to guide the Liberty past Connecticut and secure the top record in the East Friday night at Barclays Center. AP Photo by Lindsey Wasson

Stewart came here to secure New York’s first pro basketball championship since the 1972-73 New York Knicks.

The two-time WNBA Finals MVP as a member of the Seattle Storm has witnessed the steady progression of this Liberty team.

“In June, we just hadn’t built that chemistry yet,” she said. “It’s going to take time. But in order for us to be great, you don’t want to rush it.”

New York ranks second in the league in scoring (89.0), rebounding (38.2) and 3-point shooting (37.5 percent) as well as fourth in points allowed (80-3).

The Liberty have also pulled away from the Sun (24-11) in the standings, moving four games in front with five to play while crawling within 1 1/2 lengths of Vegas for the No. 1 seed.

Stewart believes New York’s penchant for stifling opponents early and not giving up second-chance points has been the key for its dominant play of late.

“I think what we’ve learned is when we set the tone and we’re aggressive defensively, it helps really get into our offense, get into our transition game and that starts with rebounding collectively,” she explained. “Making sure that we limit them to one shot.”

Connecticut, which was slated to visit Phoenix Thursday before arriving in Brooklyn Friday, had won three of its last four games at press time.

Alyssa Thomas, the league’s all-time and single-season leader in triple-doubles, had 17 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists Sunday as the Sun beat the visiting Los Angeles Sparks, 83-68, at Mohegan Sun Arena.

The Liberty, who could potentially clinch the East with a Connecticut loss to the Mercury before Friday’s tilt here, have also broken attendance records on the corner of Atlantic and Flatbush.

New York’s crowd of 11,615 in Monday’s win over the Aces marked the largest ever to see a WNBA game at Barclays.

The Liberty are drawing up to 3,000 more fans per contest than they did a season ago.

Though the Sun may not draw as much interest as Vegas did this week, Liberty All-Star guard Sabrina Ionescu, who arrived here as the top overall pick in the 2020 WNBA Draft, thanked Brooklynites for their growing support this year.

“They’ve been everything all season long,” she said of the fans. “To be with this team for the last couple of years and to see the growth of the crowd every single year has just progressed in the right direction.

“It just makes us want to play that much for them,” Ionescu added. “We go as they go.”

Liberty All-Star guard Sabrina Ionescu has been impressed by the record crowd at Downtown’s Barclays Center this year. AP Photo by Steve Marcus

GIVE ME LIBERTY: Stewart ranks fourth in the league with 9.3 rebounds per game while fellow New York forward Jonquel Jones is seventh with 8.4 boards per contest. … Ionescu announced Wednesday that she and the newly-created SI20 Foundation will be partnering with DREAM, a 32-year-old community-based youth development organization and public charter school network operating in East Harlem and the Bronx. The organizations will kick-off the partnership with a basketball clinic for DREAM Charter School student-athletes on Sept. 9, according to a team-issued release. “I’m so excited to launch my SI20 Foundation and partner with DREAM to provide equitable access to sports by giving DREAM students an up close and personal experience to learn and grow in their basketball careers,” said Ionescu. “I’m looking forward to giving them the opportunity to learn a lot from the clinic, while also being able to talk with me about their aspirations and goals as the next generation of athletes.” … After hosting Connecticut, the Liberty will set off for their final road trip of the year with a visit to Chicago on Sunday before visiting Dallas Tuesday.

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