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Jones lifting Liberty to new heights

New York rides eight-game win streak into Phoenix

June 18, 2024 By John Torenli, Sports Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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Jonquel Jones and the New York Liberty have found a formula for success that may just help them grab the WNBA title for the first time ever this year.

And earn the 6-foot-6 power forward her second Most Valuable Player award.

“That’s the beautiful thing about chemistry,” Jones said after scoring a career-high 34 points and pulling down eight rebounds in New York’s 90-82 win over the Las Vegas Aces Saturday in front of 10,424 fans at Michelob ULTRA Arena.

Jones, who had to work her way back from injury during her first season with the Brooklyn-based franchise in 2023 before emerging as the Liberty’s top performer during the playoffs, is finally displaying her full arsenal in year two.

She made the most of virtually every square inch on the hardwood in the first encounter between last season’s WNBA finalists, shooting a blistering 12-of-16 from the floor, including a season-best 4-of-5 from 3-point range, while draining 6-of-8 free throws.

The 2021 WNBA MVP as a member of the Connecticut Sun also spearheaded New York’s game-changing 14-0 run in the third quarter, making a driving layup, converting a three-point play and knocking down a shot from the charity stripe to turn a six-point deficit into a 61-53 lead.

“JJ looks great. She feels comfortable,” said Liberty coach Sandy Brondello after her team matched the best 14-game start in team history. “She’s a great 3-point shooter, but she’s just as effective inside the paint.

“The 14-0 run that was pretty special too,” Brondello added. “We talk about the chemistry, it’s showing now.”

With 83 points across her last three games, Jones is putting herself in the argument for a second MVP. She is averaging 16.8 points, 8.7 rebounds and a team-best 1.5 blocked shots per contest.

“Keeping the defense honest. Understanding that there’s different levels where I can attack the game from,” Jones said after her best all-around game in a Liberty uniform.

Sabrina Ionescu had 15 points and 12 assists, reigning MVP Breanna Stewart added 14 points and 12 boards and Betnijah Laney-Hamilton finished with 12 points for New York (12-2), which will try to make it nine in a row Tuesday night in Phoenix (7-7).

Sabrina Ionescu helped the Liberty run past the reigning back-to-back WNBA champion Aces in a rematch of last year’s Finals. Photo by Brandon Todd/New York Liberty

The reigning back-to-back champion Aces (6-6) lost for the fourth time in five games despite 22 points from Kelsey Plum and 21 points and nine rebounds from reigning WNBA Finals MVP A’ja Wilson.

“When you’re talking about greatness, it starts with consistency,” an emotional Wilson insisted. “Everybody can be good here and there, but who can be great every single game, every possession. And that’s what I’m striving for.

“It starts with me and it’s gonna always be with me,” she added. “Because I have 11 other women in that locker room that I need to pull greatness out of.”

While Vegas struggles to pursue the first three-peat the league has seen since the Houston Comets won four in a row from 1997-2000, the Liberty appear to be the team poised to make history in Downtown Brooklyn this fall.

New York has looked every bit the “Superteam” it was anointed last year. But in 2024 it clearly has the jump on the Aces and everyone but Connecticut (12-1), which suffered its only defeat to the Liberty on June 8.

“Just having a more experienced group now in this second year,” explained Ionescu, who extended her franchise-record streak of at least one 3-pointer made to 39 consecutive games by knocking down a pair from longe range.

Jones, who has gone a combined 32-for-45 from the field and 11-of-18 from beyond the arc during her three-game hot streak, knows the difference between 2023 and 2024 when assessing New York’s ability to stave off the reigning champs.

“It was the trust,” she said.

Tip-off Tuesday night in Phoenix is scheduled for 10 p.m.

Breanna Stewart and Las Vegas’ A’ja Wilson squared off for the first time since the 2023 WNBA Finals on Saturday in Sin City. Photo by Brandon Todd/New York Liberty

GIVE ME LIBERTY: After clinching a second straight berth in the Commissioner’s Cup title game last year, the Liberty were poised to host the game at Barclays Center on June 25. However, due to considerations for the 2024 NBA Draft in Downtown Brooklyn, the game was officially moved to UBS Arena on Long Island Monday. “We are excited for the opportunity to defend our Commissioner’s Cup title in New York, and we appreciate our fans’ unwavering support of our team,” said Liberty CEO Keia Clarke. “While we wish we could have brought this game to our fans in our home arena, we are grateful to UBS Arena for accommodating us and providing a world-class venue in New York.” The Liberty, who beat the Aces in Vegas last year for their first-ever championship hardware, went 5-0 against their Eastern Conference opponents during the league’s in-season tournament earlier this month. Brondello wouldn’t take the bait when asked if the move in venue would affect her team, which will host the Minnesota Lynx in the title showdown. “All you can do is control the controllables — it’s cliché like coaches say all the time, but it’s true,” she told ESPN over the weekend. “You just need to focus on what you’re supposed to do, and that’s go out there and play great basketball. Regardless of where it is, it doesn’t matter. Barclays is great, but if it’s not available, we go somewhere else.” … After visiting the Mercury, the Liberty will fly home for a two game against the Los Angeles Sparks in Brooklyn on Thursday and Saturday, respectively. … New York began this win streak with an 81-78 win over Phoenix at Barclays on May 29 behind 22 points from Ionescu. Jones scored 10 of her 20 points in the fourth quarter to help the Liberty snap a two-game skid that night. “We had a different level of intentionality with me getting it down there,” she said. “Giving me time to post up and really seal, but ultimately it was a mindset shift from me and my teammates.”

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