Brooklyn Boro

Jones delivers as Liberty snap slide

Power forward's big fourth quarter lifts N.Y. over Phoenix

May 30, 2024 By John Torenli, Sports Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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Jonquel Jones’ lack of production seemed to be on everyone’s lips following the New York Liberty’s first losing streak of the season.

The 6-foot-6 power forward shushed everyone right up Wednesday night at Downtown’s Barclays Center.

Jones scored half of her 20 points in the fourth quarter as the Liberty ended their two-game skid with a rousing 81-78 triumph over the Phoenix Mercury in front of 9,182 fans on the corner of Atlantic and Flatbush.

“We could establish JJ down low,” Liberty coach Sandy Brondello said of Jones’ re-emergence in the post.

“You want to get down in the paint. Sometimes it’s tough to do that against athletic teams. Sabrina (Ionescu) helped us and JJ did the rest.”

Following back-to-back defeats to Chicago and Minnesota after New York’s 4-0 start to this campaign, Jones was targeted as a major reason why the Liberty were failing to click.

She totaled only 12 points and 10 rebounds in the consecutive losses after averaging 17.3 points and 9.5 boards per contest during New York’s previously perfect start.

But the 2021 WNBA Most Valuable Player as a member of the Connecticut Sun shone brightest when the Liberty (5-2) needed her most.

Facing its first three-game losing streak since July 2022, New York turned to Jones, who averted the foul trouble that plagued her against the Sky and Lynx, respectively.

“We wanted to stay as physical as possible without drawing a foul and letting them get easy buckets at the free-throw line,” Jones noted after receiving three personal fouls instead of the 10 she accumulated the previous two games.

Jones buried 7-of-11 shots from the field, drained a pair of 3-pointers after failing to hit from beyond the arc in her previous two outings, and grabbed seven rebounds to go with two blocked shots.

With New York down 74-71 after Phoenix’s Diana Taurasi knocked down a pair of free throws with 2:54 to play, Jones went to work on bailing the Liberty out.

She answered with a layup and followed a made free throw by Courtney Vandersloot with two of her own to put New York up for good, 76-74, with 1:09 remaining.

“We had a different level of intentionality with me getting it down there (in the paint),” Jones said. “Giving me time to post up and really seal, but ultimately it was a mindset shift from me and my teammates.”

“JJ is not just a great finisher, she’s also a great passer,” added Brondello.

Betnijah Laney-Hamilton made sure everyone at Barclays went home happy by grabbing a rebound off a miss by Kahleah Copper and hitting a 16-footer on the other end to give the Liberty a four-point cushion with 30 ticks left.

Betnijah Laney-Hamilton roars after hitting the clinching shot in New York’s come-from-behind victory over Phoenix Wednesday. Photo by Brandon Todd/New York Liberty

Ionescu paced New York’s “Superteam” with 22 points and nine assists, Laney-Hamilton finished with 15 and reigning WNBA MVP Breanna Stewart added 13 points and eight boards for the Liberty, who opened a three-game homestand in dramatic style.

“Sabrina made some really big plays for us,” gushed Brondello.

Ionescu buried four 3-pointers to give her at least one shot made from outside the line to 32, the longest active streak in the league.

Natasha Cloud scored 21 points and Copper added 20 for the Mercury (3-4), who dropped their third in a row and fourth straight meeting with New York.

“They’re a tough team. … But I think we just had to grind it out,” Brondello said of the Mercury, who are still without star center Brittney Griner, who has missed Phoenix’s first seven games with a toe injury.

The Liberty would like to “grind” out another one Friday night when they host Washington here in the middle game of their stand.

“We stayed composed and poised and together,” Brondello said of her squad’s slump-busting triumph. “If you can do those good things, usually good things happen.”

Tip-off for Friday’s game is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.

“Obviously playing at home is an extra benefit,” said Jones.

Liberty coach Sandy Brondello and All-Star guard Sabrina Ionescu celebrate New York’s first win in three games Wednesday at Barclays Center. Photo by Brandon Todd/New York Liberty

GIVE ME LIBERTY: Future Hall of Fame point guard Courtney Vandersloot went 2-of-10 from the floor and 1-of-5 from 3-point range. But she did pick up five rebounds, a pair of blocked 3-pointers and a key steal that led to her game-tying free throw with just under two minutes remaining. … After hosting the still-winless Mystics (0-7) on Friday, the Liberty will close out this homestand with their third meeting of the year against rookie phenom Caitlin Clark and the Indiana Fever (1-7) on Sunday night. New York swept the Fever in a home-and-home series from May 16-18, including a 91-80 victory here in the finale in their Barclays opener. … The Liberty opened the campaign with an 85-80 win in Washington behind 25 points and eight rebounds from Jones.

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