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Liberty strike back with Game 2 win

Hold off Connecticut to even WNBA semifinals at 1-1

September 27, 2023 John Torenli, Sports Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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Breanna Stewart found out before Game 2 of the WNBA semifinals that she had been named Most Valuable Player of the league.

But as her shooting struggles in this best-of-5 series continued, Sabrina Ionescu and Betnijah Laney made sure the Liberty would head back to Connecticut with a 1-1 tie.

Ionescu scored 21 points and Laney added 20 Tuesday night as New York pulled even with an 84-77 triumph in front of 10,009 relieved fans at Downtown’s Barclays Center.

“Understanding what’s at stake. We knew we had to win this game,” Liberty coach Sandy Brondello said. “Win on our home court. you could see a very connected team today.”

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Stewart, who went 7-for-25 from the field in Sunday’s 78-63 loss here, had an even rougher night despite receiving her second MVP and first since 2018, when she was a member of the Seattle Storm.

“Competing in the best women’s basketball league in the world is hard,” she said upon receiving the award.

“I do my best to carry myself with grace and be a great teammate. I’m grateful for my teammates, my coaches, (and) our front office.”

Stewart finished 3-for-13 from the floor, including 1-for-4 from 3-point range, knocking down her first shot from beyond the arc in 12 attempts this series during a critical stretch in the fourth quarter.

Ionescu and Laney had no such problems.

They carried most of the load, especially down the stretch as Ionescu went 5-of-12 from the floor and drained each of her 10 free-throw attempts.

Sabrina Ionescu drove to the basket all night, going 10-for-10 from the free-throw line during Game 2 of the WNBA semifinals. AP Photo by Mary Altaffer

Laney, who only managed three points in Game 1, knocked down 7-of-11 shots and 5-of-7 3s, including a pair of clutch long-range bombs when the Suns (1-1) were crawling back into contention in the final 10 minutes.

“We played within ourselves, battled for 40 minutes and we had to weather the storm,” Ionescu said.

“B hit huge shots for us. (Courtney Vandersloot) hit huge slots for us. Stewie hit a huge one as well,” she added. “Everyone made the plays that helped us win the game.”

Tiffany Hayes scored a game-high 30 points, DeWanna Bonner had 19 and Alyssa Thomas, who finished a close second in the MVP voting, added 10 points, nine assists and eight rebounds for Connecticut, which will host Game 3 at Mohegan Sun Arena on Friday night.

“We came here and got a split, now we have the opportunity to go home,” Connecticut coach Stephanie White told the Associated Press.

Vandersloot poured in 19 points and Stewart and Jonquel Jones each posted a double-double for New York, combining for 22 points and 24 rebounds as the Liberty won the battle along the boards, 37-31.

“For us, it kind of felt like a do-or-die game,” said Jones, who went to the WNBA Finals a season ago with Connecticut before signing to play in Brooklyn this winter.

“We needed to give the fans something to cheer about, play New York Liberty basketball,” she added.

The Sun led 42-38 at the half before New York took a two-point lead into the fourth quarter.

Stewart’s 28-footer ended her shooting slump from long range to give the Liberty a 72-62 lead with just over seven minutes remaining.

“We wanted to win for Stewie,” Brondello said. “She came out and she competed. It wasn’t just about scoring. She certainly helped us get the W.”

The Sun snuck back to within six points when Thomas made two from the charity stripe with 4:42 left. Laney answered immediately, hitting a 3-pointer off a feed from Ionescu.

After Bonner completed a four-point play, Vandersloot hit a layup and Laney nailed a 25-footer to stretch the lead to 80-70 with 2:55 to play.

“This was a must-win for us,” Ionescu said.

Game 3 will tip-off at 7:30 p.m. Friday and will be televised on ESPN 2.

Breanna Stewart won her second WNBA MVP before Game 2 in Brooklyn on Tuesday night. AP Photo by Mary Altaffer

GIVE ME LIBERTY: Stewart, who finished with 11 points, 11 rebounds and five blocked shot in Game 2, is the first MVP in Liberty history dating back to the league’s inaugural season in 1997. She broke the league’s all-time single-season scoring record, posted a WNBA record four 40-point games and guided New York to a franchise-best 32 wins. “Stewie’s first season with the New York Liberty has been nothing short of historic on every level,” said Liberty general manager Jonathan Kolb. “The constant resiliency, belief, selflessness, toughness, and professionalism she has brought to the Liberty on a nightly basis is an incredibly rare combination – culminating in such a special season, both personally and collectively. We could not be more thrilled for Stewie to receive the highest individual honor in our game, which is incredibly deserved, and for her to continue propelling both our organization and the WNBA to new levels.” … Jones had 11 points and 13 rebounds for her fourth triple-double in as many games this postseason. … Game 4 will also be in Connecticut on Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m. It will be televised on ABC.

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