Brooklyn Boro

Liberty can complete sweep in Brooklyn

Host Washington in Game 2 at Downtown's Barclays Center

September 19, 2023 John Torenli, Sports Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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The New York Liberty are one win away from winning their first postseason series since 2015.

They’d like nothing better than to do it right here in Brooklyn Tuesday night.

Fresh off a convincing victory in their playoff opener, the Liberty will look to complete a sweep of their best-of-3, opening-round series with the Washington Mystics at Downtown’s Barclays Center.

“The crowd was so loud,” Liberty coach Sandy Brondello beamed as she could barely hear above the din during post-game television interviews.

“We want to protect our home court. We don’t want to go back to Washington (for Game 3 on Friday).”

They won’t have to if they play as well as they did in their first postseason home win since Game 1 of their 2015 clash with the Mystics when they still called Madison Square Garden their home.

New York (1-0) won that series in three games, but assured itself of at least one chance to close out Washington (0-1) here Tuesday.

“To win this first game at home is huge,” All-Star guard Sabrina Ionescu gushed after knocking down a franchise-record seven 3-pointers en route to a game-high 29 points in Game 1.

Though they fell behind, 29-23, after the first quarter, the Liberty held Washington to 18 points or fewer in each of the next three periods.

“Our defense is why we are where we are at this point,” noted Brondello as New York held the Mystics to a stone-cold 5-of-22 performance from 3-point range.

Jonquel Jones and the Liberty look to continue grinding their way to victory against the Mystics Tuesday night at Barclays Center. Photo by Brandon Todd/New York Liberty

Ionescu spearheaded New York’s long-range attack as the Liberty drained a dozen 3s.

She also ended any hope of a Washington comeback by drilling back-to-back shots from beyond the arc to stretch a tenuous lead to 77-65 with 6:43 remaining in regulation.

Myisha Hines-Allen scored 21 points, Brittney Sykes added 16 and Ariel Atkins finished with 14 for the Mystics, who were clearly deflated by Ionescu’s timely long-range barrage.

“Transition 3s are daggers, they do hurt,” Atkins admitted. “When you get them back-to-back, it takes the air out of the room. But I do think we had a chance down the stretch.”

Not with Ionescu finding her range and scoring 20 of her points after intermission.

“The basket felt really big when I was shooting,” she said. “I don’t need to rush that part of my game. … I knew as everyone continued to play well that I’d have an opportunity to come down and hit shots.”

She wasn’t the only one.

Jonquel Jones dominated along the interior, finishing with 20 points and 12 rebounds for her 11th career triple-double. The 2021 WNBA Most Valuable Player also had her way due to the continued absence of Washington center Shakira Austin due to a hip injury.

“If we can establish (Jones) down low, we have a size advantage there. It is a luxury,” Brondello said.

Betnijah Laney added 17 points and eight boards and Associated Press Player of the Year Breanna Stewart had 10 points and eight rebounds.

Though Stewart went an uncharacteristic 3-of-16 from the floor, Jones and Laney picked up the slack for the superstar, combining to knock down 15 of 27 field goals, including a trio of 3-pointers by Laney.

“This is what we’re here for. This is what we do,” added Laney. “I know what’s at stake and I just try to be the best me I can be. I know it’s playoffs, but for me it’s just a game and the next step toward our goal.”

The next step is right here in our borough Tuesday night before what should be another thunderous crowd.

If all goes well, the Liberty will remain in Brooklyn for their next series, a best-of-5 to see if they can return to the WNBA Finals for the first time since 2002.

“We want to continue playing our best basketball when we’re home,” Ionescu said.

Tuesday’s Game 2 will tip-off at 7 p.m. and will be televised on ESPN.

Courtney Vandersloot and Betnijah Laney embrace after New York’s Game 1 win over Washington last Friday in Downtown Brooklyn. Photo by Brandon Todd/New York Liberty

GIVE ME LIBERTY: Liberty point guard Courtney Vandersloot recorded her 300th career playoff assists in Game 1, becoming just the third player in WNBA history to achieve the feat. … Though she had a rough shooting night, Stewart, who will find out next week if she won her second WNBA award and first since 2018, had four assists, three blocked shots and finished with a game-high plus-17 in the opener. … The Liberty will celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month Tuesday. All fans in attendance will receive custom New York Liberty Noche Latina rally towels.

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