Brooklyn Boro

Ionescu bails out Liberty on both ends

All-Star's clutch shots and block burns Sun in Connecticut

July 11, 2024 By John Torenli, Sports Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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A battle between the two top teams in the WNBA came down to the best player on the court in the waning seconds Wednesday afternoon in Connecticut.

Advantage, New York Liberty.

All-Star guard Sabrina Ionescu hit an 11-foot floater with 4.1 seconds left on the clock and blocked Tyasha Harris’ bid for a game-tying 3-pointer as time expired, helping New York edge the Sun, 71-68, in front of 8,910 fans at Mohegan Sun Arena.

After waking up for an 11 a.m. start in observance of Kids Day at the arena, the Liberty (18-4) found themselves down late as Connecticut’s DiJonai Carrington made a layup to put the Sun up, 68-67, with 2:11 left.

Ionescu, the reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Month, answered immediately with a 14-footer to give New York the lead for good, 69-68.

One of the league’s most prominent 3-point shooters displayed more of her all-around game throughout the matinee.

She finished with 21 points on 8-of-15 shooting, going 1-of-3 from long range, while grabbing five rebounds, handing out five assists.

But after thrusting the Liberty ahead, Ionescu watched reigning WNBA Most Valuable Player Breanna Stewart block a pair of potential go-ahead shots by Carrington and DeWanna Bonner, respectively, before putting the Sun (17-5) away herself.

She grabbed a defensive rebound with 27.1 ticks remaining, hustled downcourt and wound up draining the game-sealing shot before foiling Harris’ bid to extend Kids Day at the buzzer.

“I had missed two floaters right before that that could have put the game away,” Ionescu said. “I want to do for this team. Obviously scoring, but also communicating defensively at the end. And not wanting to go to overtime.”

After going 10-for-42 from beyond the arc in Saturday’s disappointing loss at Indiana, the Liberty only hoisted up 13 3s against Connecticut, which had won three in a row entering the much-anticipated showdown for the best record in the WNBA.

“I think it’s understanding that we’re not a one-dimensional team,” Ionescu said of the emphasis on going inside against a rugged Sun team. “We’re not going to go in every single day and do the same thing.”

Bonner had 22 points and nine boards for Connecticut, which had its season-opening nine-game winning streak snapped in Brooklyn on June 8 in the initial encounter between the squads.

Reigning WNBA MVP Breanna Stewart had three big blocks down the stretch in the Liberty’s victory over the Sun in a battle for the WNBA’s best record Wednesday. Photo by Brandon Todd/New York Liberty

Stewart finished with 18 points and 14 rebounds, Courtney Vandersloot added 11 points and Jonquel Jones had eight points and 11 rebounds against her former teammates as New York beat Connecticut for the sixth straight time in the regular season.

The Liberty also topped the Sun in four tough games during last year’s Eastern Conference Finals, but this one was for the inside track to the top seed in the WNBA playoffs with 18 games left on the schedule.

“I think we’re in a great place. We’re playing high-level basketball, but we haven’t played our best,” noted Stewart.

“We talked about it before the game,” added Liberty coach Sandy Brondello. “We’re pretty good in the fourth quarter. This is a tough team, but we found a way. Sabrina made a really massive shot at the end.”

She also joined her teammates in shaking off an unusual start time, one that made her family in California wake up extra early for the big showdown.

“”I think it was a great opportunity for it to be Kids Day. A lot of kids, a lot of screaming,” Ionescu said.

“We weren’t going to use that as an excuse to walk through here and go through the motions,” she added. “We had to come out and play the best team in the league no matter what time it was.”

Only the Liberty can call themselves the best team in the league for now.

But that could change if New York doesn’t take care of business back at Downtown’s Barclays Center, where they will host Chicago in the opener of a home-and-home series Thursday night.

“Still a long way to go,” Brondello reminded everyone.

Tip-off vs. Chicago at Barclays is at 7 p.m.

New York point guard Courtney Vandersloot put up 11 points in a season-high 34 minutes Wednesday in Connecticut as the Liberty edged the Sun. Photo by Brandon Todd/New York Liberty

GIVE ME LIBERTY: With her 230th career win, Brondello tied Michael Cooper for the sixth-most coaching wins in WNBA history. … Vandersloot, who missed three weeks last month to tend to her ailing mother, reached double digits in scoring for the first time since May 25, when she put up 12 points. The future Hall of Fame point guard also had a big blocked shot in the fourth quarter against the Sun to go with three assists. “I thought she had great game. Slooty is back,” Brondello said of Vandersloot, who logged a season-high 34 minutes. “It was going to take a few games and she really made some big plays for us.” … With her one made shot from outside the arc, Ionescu extended her franchise-record streak of consecutive games with at least one made 3 to 47, the third-longest run in WNBA history. … Liberty starting forward Betnijah Laney-Hamilton sat out Wednesday’s game with a sore right knee. … After hosting the Sky Thursday, New York will fly to Chicago for the back end of the home-and-home Saturday at 1 p.m. That game will be televised nationally on ABC.

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