Brooklyn Boro

Stewart and Liberty making history

Reigning MVP leads New York into Minnesota rematch

July 2, 2024 By John Torenli, Sports Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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Already off to the best start in franchise history, Breanna Stewart and the league-leading New York Liberty aren’t interested in slowing down as they prepare for their much-anticipated rematch with the visiting Minnesota Lynx.

Instead, they’d like to keep breaking new ground.

New York (16-3) won its fourth straight regular-season game Sunday with a come-from-behind 81-76 triumph over the Atlanta Dream in front of 10,823 fans at Downtown’s Barclays Center.

The Liberty also rebounded nicely from their gut-wrenching 94-89 loss to the Lynx (14-4) last week at Long Island’s UBS Arena in the Commissioner’s Cup in-season tournament final.

Though that defeat didn’t count toward its regular-season record, New York is anxious to prove it doesn’t have a soft spot when it comes to Minnesota, where they also suffered an 84-67 setback on May 25.

A month later, the Lynx denied the Liberty a chance to be the first-ever back-to-back Commissioner’s Cup champions.

Sunday was an opportunity for New York to re-affirm itself as the team to beat in the WNBA, and last year’s Most Valuable Player was at the forefront of her team’s resurgence.

After falling behind by as many as 16 points in the first half, the Liberty stormed back to take the final three periods, including a 10-0 spurt to begin the fourth quarter that put them ahead to stay.

“We started slow. A little bit rusty I suppose. We had to dig deep,” admitted Liberty coach Sandy Brondello.

No one dug deeper than Stewart, who missed six of her first seven shots before entering the type of zone that has made her the league’s best player since she arrived in New York last year.

The 6-foot-4 forward made six of her final 10 attempts from the floor, buried a trio of 3-pointers, ripped down a team-high 12 rebounds, handed out three assists, nabbed a pair of steals and blocked a shot in a game-high 37 minutes.

She also helped pick up the slack for frontcourt mate and former league MVP Jonquel Jones, who “was feeling a little bit under the weather,” according to Brondello.

In the process, Stewart became the fastest player in WNBA history to reach 5,000 points, needing 242 games to reach the milestone. That was one less contest than it took Phoenix’s Diana Taurasi to accomplish the feat.

“I think it’s a cool honor for sure,” Stewart said. “When you’re able to pass someone who is paving the way in scoring.”

“She had a great game today. She’s the (fastest) player to get to 5,000 points,” added Brondello.

Allisha Gray poured in 24 points and former Liberty start Tina Charles added 16 points and 12 rebounds for the Dream (7-10), who suffered an 86-75 loss to New York in Atlanta on June 23, two days ahead of the Cup Final.

“Tonight our crew played hard, they got fatigued. when you get fatigued, it’s hard to push through and do the things you’re supposed to do because you let fatigue take over,” noted Dream coach Tanisha Wright.

“I don’t fault them for that.”

No one could after watching Stewart take control of the action, though she certainly wasn’t alone in moving the Liberty 1 1/2 games ahead of the Lynx and Connecticut Sun for the league’s best record.

Betnijah Laney-Hamilton and the Liberty are out to avenge their Commissioner’s Cup championship game loss to Minnesota last week on Long Island. Photo by Brandon Todd/New York Liberty

Betnijah Laney-Hamilton scored 18 points, rookie Leonie Fiebich matched a season best with 12 and Sabrina Ionescu finished with 10 for New York, extending her streak of consecutive games with at least one made 3-pointer to 44, the longest such run in franchise history.

“We continued to compete, playing our style of basketball,” Stewart said of shrugging off an early 31-15 deficit. “We had some off days we weren’t used to and had to get the rhythm back.”

Jones did provide some help along the interior, finishing with only five points and three rebounds in 30 minutes on the Barclays hardwood.

“I think JJ helped us be successful by setting up some screens,” Brondello noted.

The Lynx will visit Brooklyn as the WNBA’s hottest team. They have won all but one of their last nine contests, including Sunday’s 70-62 triumph in Chicago.

Kayla McBride had 16 points and Napheesa Collier added 13 points, 11 boards and six assists for Minnesota, which bounced back from last Thursday’s 94-88 loss in Dallas.

Bridget Carleton scored 23 points and Collier had 21 in last Tuesday’s Cup Final victory over New York, grabbing the coveted crown for the Lynx against the reigning Eastern Conference champions.

“Means a lot. Testament to where we are at this season,” Collier said. “This is the best group. Our personalities mesh so well. Any night anyone can have 20. Bridget had an outstanding game. It’s so fun.”

Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m.

Liberty fans were happy to have point guard Courtney Vandersloot back in the starting lineup Sunday at Barclays Center. Photo by Brandon Todd/New York Liberty

GIVE ME LIBERTY: The Liberty got legendary point guard Courtney Vandersloot back in the starting lineup for the first time since June 4 Sunday. The future Hall of Famer finished with seven points, a season high-tying seven assists and a pair of steals. She had come off the bench in the Cup Final, when she saw her first action since her mother passed two weeks ago. “It was great to have Slooty back on the court,” said Brondello. “We know what she can do defensively.” Vandersloot also became the second player in WNBA history to reach 2,750 career assists, joining Sue Bird. … After hosting the Lynx, the Liberty will open a two-game road trip in Indiana on Saturday, hoping for a four-game season-series sweep of Caitlin Clark and the Fever.

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