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Liberty advance past Sun

New York reaches first WNBA title series since 2002

October 3, 2023 John Torenli, Sports Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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The New York Liberty spent the winter collecting two of the league’s top free agents, Breanna Stewart and Courtney Vandersloot, and acquiring a former Most Valuable Player, Jonquel Jones, via trade in the hopes of reaching their first WNBA Finals since 2002.

Mission accomplished!

But plenty more to do if the Liberty want to hoist their first-ever WNBA championship trophy later this month.

Stewart scored 27 points, Jones added 25 points and 15 rebounds and Betnijah Laney added 21 points as New York held on for a dramatic 87-84 Game 4 win Sunday to close out its semifinal series with Connecticut in front of 8,196 fans at Mohegan Sun Arena.

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The Liberty signed Stewart and Vandersloot to cap their offseason haul, which began with the three-team swap that landed Jones here in Brooklyn.

Adding that talent to a squad that already boasted All-Stars Sabrina Ionescu and Laney made New York one of the league’s “Super Teams” and a preseason favorite to meet reigning WNBA champion Las Vegas in the Finals.

The Aces completed a three-game sweep of Dallas Friday in their semifinal series, setting up exactly what many had anticipated before the opening tip of this first-ever 40-game WNBA campaign.

Jonquel Jones posted her sixth straight postseason double during New York’s series-clinching win in Connecticut Sunday. Photo by Brandon Todd/New York Liberty

The Finals will open in Sin City on Sunday.

Before then, however, the Liberty get to relish reaching the franchise’s first title series in 21 years.

“Obviously, the goal was let’s bring in the talent and let’s make a run for this,” Liberty coach Sandy Brondello said. “We certainly did that.”

They almost didn’t.

After losing the opening game of this series, the Liberty got well at home in Game 2 and posted an 11-point win in Connecticut in Game 3.

But the Sun were game and ready to force a fifth and decisive game, rallying down the stretch to pull within 79-78 on DeWanna Bonnder’s 3-pointer with 1:21 remaining in regulation.

Jones, who combined with Stewart to power to the basket throughout the finale, drew a foul and drained a pair from the line before stealing a pass and getting to the stripe again for two made free throws.

The 2021 MVP as a member of the Sun burned her former team throughout the four-game set and has posted a double-double in each of New York’s six postseason contests.

“JJ has been amazing, so we continue to make sure we’re throwing the ball into her,” Brondello gushed. “But it wasn’t just in the post-ups. It was the big 3s and the free throws, so well done.”

Jones made another free throw with 29 ticks remaining before Tyasha Harris hit a 25-footer to pull Connecticut within 84-81 with 18.1 left on the clock.

Laney made 1-of-2 on New York’s ensuing trip before Harris struck again from 3-point range to shave the deficit to 85-84.

Stewart was sent to the line and made two more free throws with eight seconds left before the Liberty swarmed the Sun and denied them a potential tying shot at the buzzer.

“The fact that the Liberty hasn’t been to a Final since 2002 is wild,” Stewart said. “And to be able to have that and to know that we have the entire city behind us is something that is really, really special.”

Alyssa Thomas, who finished just behind Stewart in last week’s MVP voting, spearheaded the Sun with 17 points, 15 rebounds and 11 assists, but Connecticut was denied a return trip to the Finals.

“I had a season that you’ve never seen in this league and probably won’t seen again unless I do it,” Thomas said.

“Let’s be reasonable. Triple doubles, the most double-doubles in league history. We’re talking about league records. So for me, I have a lot to be proud of.”

So do the Liberty, who established a franchise record with 32 wins this year, watched Stewart set the league’s single-season scoring record on the way to her second MVP and wound up just where everyone hoped they would when this year began.

“This is a day I’m really proud of. When you bring all these amazing players together, we work a lot on our culture,” Brondello noted.

“And I think you can see where it connected,” she added. “Because when you have connection, you have commitment. And these girls are committed to each other and this program and how we want to play so it’s great to watch.”

Game 1 of the Finals in Vegas will tip-off at 3 p.m. and will be televised on ABC.

Breanna Stewart won MVP honors and led the Liberty to their first WNBA Finals appearance since 2002. AP Photo by Jessica Hill

GIVE ME LIBERTY: Jones led the Liberty at the charity stripe in Game 4, going 9-of-12. New York went a combined 21-of-25 at the line while Connecticut made just 3-of-8 attempts. New York outrebounded the Sun, 42-33, and outscored them, 42-34, in the paint. … Game 2 will also be in Vegas on Wednesday, Oct. 11. The series will shift back to Brooklyn for Game 3 on Sunday, Oct. 15.

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