Brooklyn Boro

Liberty look to continue burning Sun

Host Connecticut in Game 1 of semifinals Sunday at Barclays

September 21, 2023 John Torenli, Sports Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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The Connecticut Sun have been here time and again.

The New York Liberty haven’t.

That won’t mean much Sunday afternoon at Downtown’s Barclays Center when the second-seeded Liberty host the No. 3 seed Sun in Game 1 of the best-of-five WNBA semifinals.

The Sun (2-1) needed a 90-75 win in Minnesota Wednesday night to advance to their fifth consecutive appearance in the semis just one night after the Liberty (2-0) completed their hard-fought sweep of Washington here to advance to the league’s Final Four for the first time since 2015.

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Connecticut, which lost the WNBA Finals to Las Vegas last year, will arrive on the corner of Atlantic and Flatbush this weekend boasting the league’s all-time leader in triple-doubles, Alyssa Thomas, and star forward DeWanna Bonner, who has amassed 1,000 career playoff points.

Thomas put up a career high-tying 28 points to go with 12 assists and six rebounds and Bonner added 25 points and 10 boards Wednesday as the Sun proved once again that they are among the WNBA elite.

“I think that we’re a group that knows that we have really good pieces, a good core, an experienced core, who has won a lot of games, been to championships as well,” said WNBA Coach of the Year Stephanie White.

The Liberty, tabbed the league’s newly formed “Super Team” and a favorite to reach the WNBA Finals for the first time in 21 years since the offseason, are still relishing their first series win together following a thrilling 90-85 overtime victory against the Mystics here Tuesday.

“It feels really good that it felt like a real team win,” said New York point guard Courtney Vandersloot after draining two big shots to put her team in front for good during the extra session.

“Those feel different, and it can start a run,” she added. “It can start momentum. But we felt a lot of chemistry, and it felt like, ‘Yeah, we did this together,’ which is a good feeling.”

Liberty forward Jonquel Jones, who spent her first six seasons with the Sun, including her 2021 WNBA Most Valuable Player campaign, had a lot to do with disposing of Washington quickly.

She averaged 19.5 points and a team-best 13.0 rebounds during the two-game set, and will now get a chance to send her former teammates home for the offseason.

Former Connecticut forward Jonquel Jones and Courtney Vandersloot will be chasing the Liberty’s first WNBA Finals appearance since 2002 beginning Sunday afternoon in Brooklyn. Photo by Brandon Todd/New York Liberty

The Liberty swept four games from Connecticut during the regular season, beginning with an 81-65 triumph in Brooklyn on May 27.

Jones’ return to her only previous WNBA home took place exactly a month later. She had 14 points and 11 rebounds to help New York to an 89-81 win.

On Aug. 24, the teams had their closest contest of the year as the Liberty pulled out a 95-90 win in overtime behind 24 points from Associated Press Player of the Year Breanna Stewart.

Stewart broke the Liberty’s single-season scoring record that night while Thomas recorded her league record 24th double-double of the year with 24 points and 12 assists.

New York cruised to an 89-58 rout in the final meeting between the squads as Betnijah Laney led the way with 19 points.

Sabrina Ionescu, who is averaging a team-high 20.0 points during the playoffs, missed that contest to rest her right calf after the Liberty assured themselves the second seed.

Ionescu had 11 points, nine rebounds and five assists in Tuesday’s Game 2 win over Washington.

She also had a lot to say about the Liberty’s ability to have a different hero step up virtually every game en route to a franchise-record 32 wins and a spot against Connecticut for the right to go to the WNBA Finals.

“That’s the beauty of this team. It’s pick your poison every single night,” she said. “And as long as we can continue to stay together and win, that’s why we’re all here, is to play unselfish basketball.”

Tip-off at Barclays is set for 1 p.m. Sunday and the game will be televised on ESPN.

Alyssa Thomas (No. 25) and the Connecticut Sun will arrive in Downtown Brooklyn Sunday for Game of their fifth straight WNBA semifinal series. AP Photo by Abbie Parr

GIVE ME LIBERTY: Stewart will know before tip-off for Game 2 here Tuesday at 8 p.m. if she was named WNBA MVP for the second time. She was the 2018 MVP and two-time WNBA Finals MVP during her six-year run with the Seattle Storm. … Game 3 will be in Connecticut Friday night and Game 4, if necessary, is slated for Oct. 1 at Mohegan Sun Arena. … Liberty coach Sandy Brondello finished third behind Dallas Latricia Trammell and White for Coach of the Year. White lost Jones to the Liberty via trade and the Sun also were without Brionna Jones due to a season-ending injury a month into the year. “The noise outside the locker room was talking about it being rebuilding, but our expectation was to compete,” White said.

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