New York Liberty: 3 stars from Sunday’s loss at Minnesota

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A brilliant return for Natasha Howard wasn’t enough for the New York Liberty to end Minnesota’s WNBA-long eight-game winning streak.

The New York Liberty enjoyed an eventful return to WNBA action on Sunday night with an electric showing from Natasha Howard. Alas for New York, it didn’t come with a win.

Sylvia Fowles fell a rebound short of a double-double with 18 points, shooting 9-of-10 from the field in an 88-78 victory for the Minnesota Lynx at Target Center. New York (10-12) maintained its hold on a WNBA playoff spot thanks to Sunday losses from Washington and Dallas while Minnesota (13-7) stretched its WNBA-best winning streak to eight games. The WNBA returned to regular season action on Sunday after a month-long break for the All-Star Game in Las Vegas, the Summer Olympics in Tokyo and the Commissioner’s Cup competition won by the Seattle Storm.

ESM has three stars from the Liberty’s return…



3rd Star: Sami Whitcomb

12 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals

Despite Minnesota shutting holding the Liberty’s fearsome outside unit to a season-low 16 three-point attempts, Whitcomb managed to pick up where she left off from her appearance in the WNBA’s three-point competition in Vegas (coming in third place in the so-called Allie Quigley Invitational) by sinking two triples, including one that helped give the Liberty the lead at the end of the third.

2nd Star: Sabrina Ionescu

14 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists

Burdened with an “overuse” injury during the first portion of the season, she came back recharged and re-energized in the first game back. Ionescu began to resemble her old, dominant, agile self through strong on-court movements and shot 6-of-11 from the field. She has now shot at least 50 percent in three of her last five games, showing a drastic improvement from an 0-for-6 showing in the first half’s finale against Connecticut. Ionescu also continued to develop some strong early chemistry with Howard, who planned to create a “Shaq and Kobe”-like relationship upon her arrival this winter.

1st Star: Natasha Howard

30 points, 4 rebounds

During the pregame, Liberty head coach Walt Hopkins said that Howard, back on the court for the first time in 15 games, would be on a “loose” minutes restriction. He declined to put a number on it, as he wanted to see how Howard was feeling as Sunday night progressed. It’s safe to say that Howard was feeling like her old self, scoring 20 points in the first half, even sinking two triples from the outside, as she wound up coming three points short of her career-high. Howard’s return comes at the perfect time as the Liberty fight for a playoff spot. Her expertise as a Defensive Player of the Year and three-time WNBA champion could come up huge as New York seeks traction.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

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