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Jones leads Liberty back to Connecticut

Former Sun forward looming large as Game 3 approaches

September 28, 2023 John Torenli, Sports Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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Liberty forward Jonquel Jones went to the WNBA Finals twice with the Connecticut Sun and lost both times, including last year in four games to reigning champion Las Vegas.

The 6-foot-6 forward, who came to New York in a three-team trade last winter, hopes to return and grab her first ring and the Liberty’s first title as well.

“I think we all have the right mindset right now,” Jones said after New York escaped Brooklyn with a 1-1 home split in this best-of-5 series, which moves to Connecticut’s Mohegan Sun Arena for Game 3 on Friday night.

Jones has posted a double-double in each of the Liberty’s first four playoff games and is averaging 16.0 points and 12.5 boards per contest during that stretch.

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She put up 11 points and ripped down a game-high 13 rebounds in Tuesday’s 84-77 triumph over the Sun (1-1) at Barclays Center, giving New York (1-1) the win it needed to avoid facing elimination in Game 3.

Newly crowned WNBA Most Valuable Player Breanna Stewart joined Jones in dominating along the interior in Game 2, amassing 11 points, 11 rebounds and blocking five shots.

Stewart, who is a dismal 10-for-35 from the field in this series, including 1-of-12 from 3-point range, is due to make a more significant impact in the scoring department. She had a WNBA record four 40-point games this season.

But according to Jones, who grabbed MVP honors with Connecticut in 2021, her teammate is still one of the players most responsible for helping New York get a split in Brooklyn.

“That’s what she does. That’s why she’s MVP,” Jones said. “She can affect the game in so many ways and lead by example. We’re happy to have her.”

WNBA MVP Breanna Stewart will try to shake off her recent shooting woes when the Liberty visit the Sun Friday at Mohegan Sun Arena. AP Photo by Mary Altaffer

After a season-low scoring output in a series-opening 78-63 loss in Game 1, the Liberty found a way to grind their way to the basket and the free-throw line in Game 2.

New York also slowed down Connecticut’s offense with a rare zone look on defense, something All-Star guard Sabrina Ionescu believes made a difference Tuesday.

“We hadn’t played zone in a while to be honest,” said Ionescu, who scored a team-high 21 points in Game 2 while going a franchise-record 10-of-10 at the free-throw line.

“So for all five (starters) to come in and be locked in and also rebounding out of the zone. We ultimately needed to be better in 1-on-1 defense. … We’ll keep that zone in our back pocket.”

The Liberty made all 16 of their attempts from the charity stripe Tuesday and also held a 37-31 advantage on the boards.

Getting closer to the rim proved to be the formula for success after New York only made a third of its shots from the floor in Game 1 and lost the rebounding battle, 35-30.

“We were terrible in that first game,” said Liberty coach Sandy Brondello. “We’re just pushing each other. That’s a tough team Connecticut with their movement and their versatility.”

New York won all four regular-season meetings with the Sun, including a 95-90 overtime triumph in their last visit to Connecticut on Aug. 24.

But that history proved meaningless in Game 1, and Brondello is aware that the Sun are playing in their fifth consecutive semifinals while her squad is a newly constructed “Super Team”.

The Liberty hadn’t advanced to the second round of the postseason in eight years and haven’t reached the Finals since 2002.

“It’s the playoff level. We won 4-0, but the two games in Connecticut were dog fights,” Brondello said.

“They are battle-tested,” she added. “They’ve been in these positions many times. (DeWanna Bonner) and (Alyssa Thomas), they are such great players.”

They were in Game 2, but Tiffany Hayes led the way for Connecticut with a game-high 30 points. Bonner put up 19 and Thomas, who finished just behind Stewart in the MVP voting, added 10 points, eight rebounds and nine assists.

Bonner, who is engaged to Thomas, revealed how much winning MVP would have meant to the league’s all-time leader in triple-doubles.

“What Alyssa did this season was unbelievable. The news was emotional, that was tough for her,” she said. “It’s tough for our team. but we came out and played for her tonight. We didn’t get the win, but we’ll continue to play for her.”

The Sun went 13-7 at home this year and won four of their last five games in Connecticut to close out the regular season.

New York boasts a league-best 17-3 road record this year, but will be off the Barclays Center floor for the first time this postseason Friday.

“Now we’ll go to Connecticut and try to win some there,” Brondello said.

Tip-off for Game 3 is 7:30 p.m. and the game will be televised on ESPN 2.

Tiffany Hayes lit up the Liberty for 30 points in Connecticut’s Game 2 loss to the Liberty at Downtown’s Barclays Center. AP Photo by Mary Altaffer

GIVE ME LIBERTY: The Liberty won their playoff road opener a season ago in Chicago, beating the Sky 98-91 before dropping the final two games of their opening-round series. … New York forward Betnijah Laney, who had 20 points in Game 2, knocked down a career playoff-best five 3-pointers, including two critical long-range bombs in the fourth quarter. … Point guard Courtney Vandersloot blocked a career postseason-high two shots Tuesday. She contributed 19 points to New York’s victory, draining 3-of-4 shots from 3-point range. … Game 4 will also be in Connecticut on Sunday at 3 p.m. Game 5, if necessary, will be back in Brooklyn on Tuesday.

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