New York Liberty: Three stars from Thursday’s loss at Las Vegas

The return of Sabrina Ionescu wasn’t enough for the New York Liberty to avoid another one-sided defeat in Las Vegas.

The best news emerging from Thursday night’s New York Liberty game is likely the fact they probably won’t have to return to Michelob Ultra Arena this season.

Sabrina Ionescu made her return as a reserve, but it wasn’t enough to reverse New York’s fortunes. Six Las Vegas Aces reached double-figures in scoring, paced by 18 from Kelsey Plum in a 103-76 victory. The Liberty (6-6) have now dropped five of their last six games after a 5-1 start. They’re 0-5 all-time in Sin City (since 2018), which hosts one of the WNBA’s original franchises in their third incarnation (previously based in Salt Lake City and San Antonio). Las Vegas (10-3) has swept the three-game season set, also winning by 22 on Tuesday.

ESM has three silver linings from this latest defeat…

3rd Star: Rebecca Allen

14 points, 5 rebounds, 4 steals

Allen has been filling Ionescu’s role in the starting five and but she continued to make her case for inclusion on the shortlist for Sixth Woman of the Year. Similar to her ten-minute takeover in the teams’ long meeting in Brooklyn earlier this month (14 points in the second quarter), Allen kept the Liberty’s fight going in the fourth quarter, picking up a dozen points to keep things semi-respectable.

2nd Star: Betnijah Laney

20 points, 4 assists

It came in yet another disheartening defeat, but Laney once again earned 20 after missing the mark in Tuesday’s matchup. The return to 20 points comes just in time for the start of All-Star Game voting for a game set to be held in…Las Vegas.

New York is 6-4 when Laney hits her magic 20.

1st Star: Reshanda Gray

17 rebounds, 4 rebounds 

Gray is in the midst of her fourth term in New York, added on a hardship contract with Kiah Stokes competing overseas. As Stokes was not on Turkey’s EuroBasket roster for the upcoming tournament, it stands to reason that Gray’s metropolitan endeavors may be coming to an end.

But after Thursday’s display, it’s hard to justify sending her off into the WNBA wilderness. Not only is Gray a bona fide WNBA veteran that shouldn’t be reduced to hardship contracts for domestic work, but her ability to infiltrate the paint and work with the roll can’t be denied. Gray also became a thorn in the side of Liz Cambage, who voiced her frustrations to the officials to no avail. If anything, Gray continues to build her reputation as a walking, breathing, flesh-and-blood case for WNBA expansion, whether it’s through roster spots or cities.

The Liberty return to action on Sunday afternoon against the Los Angeles Sparks (4 p.m. ET, ESPN). 

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Liberty: 3 stars from Thursday’s loss vs. Las Vegas

The New York Liberty fought valiantly but a comeback effort fell short against the Aces.

Defending WNBA MVP A’ja Wilson put in 30 points on Thursday night at Barclays Center, as the Las Vegas Aces used a dominant first quarter to earn a 94-82 victory over the New York Liberty. Betnijah Laney reached 20 points for the eighth straight game, leading the Liberty (5-3) with 23 points, while Rebecca Allen (16) and Sami Whitcomb (14) also reached double figures.

Las Vegas (6-4) jumped out to a 30-16 lead at the end of the first quarter and inflated their lead by as much as 19 before the Liberty mounted a comeback that came as close as one. It was another tough from the field for Sabrina Ionescu (2-13 FG), who was limited to five points. She did earn nine assists and rebounds each, but it wasn’t enough to withstand the Vegas storm.

ESM has three stars for the Liberty in their second straight defeat…

3rd Star: Leaonna Odom

7 pts. (3-3 FG)

Odom, sidelined with an Achilles injury over the first eight games of the season, made her 2021 debut on Thursday. One of the Bradenton bubble’s best-kept secrets immediately made her prescience felt with a block on a driving Chelsea Gray to open the second quarter. Odom sank all three of her attempts from the field and several tipped balls ended Vegas possessions. With Natasha Howard’s return still undated, the return of a defensive stud like Odom could help the Liberty tread water in the meantime, helping them regain their defensive swagger.

2nd Star: Betnjiah Laney

23 pts., 5 rebs.

With every tally of at least 20, Laney edges closer to WNBA history. She became the first player since Lauren Jackson (2009) to open a season by reaching the precipice in each of her first eight games. Laney, Jackson, and Sheryl Swoopes are the only players to reach eight, while Cynthia Cooper (9 in 1999) holds the record. With Ionescu in a bit of a rut (which Liberty head coach Walt Hopkins attributed to potential soreness) Bradenton’s Most Improved Player continues to serve as both a reliable scorer and floor general, often working with exclusively second-unit players in the early stages of games. Such endeavors are only adding to her MVP candidacy.

1st Star: Rebecca Allen

16 pts. 2 rebs., 2 stls. 

Blessed with a sense of fearless shooting and tenacious defense, it feels like Allen was tailor-made to play in the system that Hopkins and his assistants have developed. The union was fully realized and on display on Thursday, as she helped the Liberty back into the game with a dominant stretch of 11 consecutive points in the second quarter, an effort reminiscent of her team-record 22-point showing against Minnesota back in White Plains during her last WNBA season in 2019. As the Liberty continue to work through undermanned times on the roster, Allen’s efforts showcase the depth that has built a winning record in the early going. She’ll likely be relied upon further as she regains her shooting touch and Kiah Stokes goes off to compete in Turkey’s international endeavors later this month.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags