Brooklyn Boro

How sweep it is! Liberty outlast Mystics

Pull out overtime thriller to advance to WNBA semifinals

September 20, 2023 John Torenli, Sports Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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For the first time in eight years, the New York Liberty are headed to the WNBA semifinals.

And it certainly didn’t come easy.

Breanna Stewart scored 27 points and Jonquel Jones added 19 points and 14 rebounds as the Liberty clawed their way to a 90-85 overtime victory over the Washington Mystics Tuesday night, completing a two-game sweep of their first-round playoff series in front of 9,256 fans at Barclays Center.

“It means a lot. I don’t know if we’re thinking about (the franchise advancing in the playoffs for the first time since 2015),” Stewart ceded after leading New York into a second-round series against the winner of Wednesday’s decisive Game 3 between Connecticut and Minnesota.

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“Today there were highs and lows,” she added. “We knew it was going to be emotional. D.C. was going to go out swinging. We stayed the course. We didn’t stop playing until the final buzzer.”

Neither did the Mystics (0-2), who got a heroic, career-high 33-point performance from Natasha Cloud.

“One of the best games of her career,” Mystics coach Eric Thibault gushed of the veteran guard, who also dished out a game-high nine assists.

“Especially considering the way they were playing her and put the people on her,” he added. “To do it on a stage like this was impressive.”

Breanna Stewart’s 27 points and nine rebounds lifted New York over Washington for the Liberty’s first playoff series win since 2015. Photo by Brandon Todd/New York Liberty

The Liberty (2-0) desperately wanted to avoid flying to our nation’s capital for Game 3 on Friday night, but Cloud and the Mystics (0-2) pushed them to the limit.

After squandering an 11-point halftime advantage, New York was unable to pull away again.

Stewart drained an 11-footer that gave the Liberty a 74-71 lead with 45 ticks remaining in regulation, but Brittney Sykes answered with a 3-pointer on the other end with 33 seconds left.

Cloud made a pair of free throws to put New York on the brink of playing a decisive game of its own with 27.1 to play.

But Jones, a force along the interior in both contests with Washington missing injured center Shakira Austin, grabbed an offensive rebound off an intentionally botched free throw by Sabrina Ionescu.

She drew a foul and drained both shots from the charity stripe with 11 seconds remaining to force the extra session.

“You all saw it, we felt it, Jonquel’s a phenomenal rebounder, she’s really hard to keep off the glass,” Mystics forward Elena Delle Donne told the Associated Press.

“She’s going to go at that point. We couldn’t pinch her quite right. Those moments are certainly heartbreaking.”

Courtney Vandersloot gave the Liberty an early cushion in overtime, hitting a tiebreaking 3-pointer and 20-footer on successive trips to put New York up 84-79.

However, Delle Donne and Ariel Atkins had back-to-back baskets for Washington to shave the advantage to one point with just over a minute remaining.

Jones hit a layup on the other end and after a pair of free throws by Atkins, Stewart made two from the stripe with 11 seconds left.

Atkins nearly spoiled the mood on the corner of Atlantic and Flatbush, but her attempt at a tying 3-pointer went off the backboard with seven ticks on the clock before Stewart settled matters with two more free throws.

“That’s playoff basketball,” said Stewart, who won a pair of WNBA Finals MVPs during her first six years in the league with Seattle. “No matter what we stayed with it and believed.”

“It could have went either way,” added Liberty coach Sandy Brondello. “We’re battle-tested.”

Betnijah Laney scored 19 points, Ionescu added 11 and Vandersloot handed out 10 assists for the Liberty, who will host Game 1 here in Downtown Brooklyn against the Sun or Lynx on Sunday.

“We want to win at home. We did not want to go to D.C!” Stewart insisted.

Thanks to a thrilling finish, they didn’t have to.

Liberty coach Sandy Brondello and her players survived an epic overtime battle with the Mystics Tuesday night at Barclays Center. Photo by Brandon Todd/New York Liberty

GIVE ME LIBERTY: Jones, who lost a pair of WNBA Finals with Connecticut, including last year vs. Las Vegas, posted her 12th career postseason double-double in Game 2. … The Liberty’s 2015 first-round series victory was also over Washington. … New York is 4-0 in overtime games this year.

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