New York Liberty playoffs: 3 stars from Thursday’s loss at Phoenix

A valiant effort by the New York Liberty fell just short on Thursday night, as they dropped a heartbreaking postseason decision in Phoenix.

The New York Liberty’s Cinderella story surprisingly began at midnight. Alas, it came to an end shortly after.

Brianna Turner’s free throw with 0.4 seconds remaining gave the Phoenix Mercury just enough of a margin to escape Grand Canyon University with an 83-82 win over the Liberty in the opening round of the 2021 WNBA Playoffs. It was New York’s first playoff contest since 2017.

Facing the heavily-favored Mercury, the Liberty fell behind 17-8 in the early going, but fought their way back in a game that featured 13 lead changes. Betnijah Laney tied the game with a triple with 2.4 ticks remaining before a foul sent Turner to the foul line, where she hit one of two.

Skylar Diggins-Smith led the way with 22 for Phoenix while Sophie Cunningham had 21 off the bench for the victorious Mercury. They’ll now face the fourth-seeded defending champions from Seattle on Sunday afternoon (3 p.m. ET, ABC).

ESM has metropolitan game balls to bestow from a respectable final effort…

Honorable Mentions

  • Natasha Howard: 16 points, 10 rebounds
  • Bec Allen: 11 points, 4 rebounds, 3 blocks

3rd Star: Reshanda Gray

8 points, 2 rebounds

The Liberty’s modern fortunes have been defined by their youngsters, but the veteran Gray came up huge for the Liberty in the fourth quarter, helping them keep pace on the inside as Phoenix tried to pull away, forcing the opponents to rely on outside endeavors. Gray set new playoff career-bests after missing the last two games with a non-COVID illness. Through four different tenures this season, Gray became a relied-upon leader and spark off the bench as she seeks to establish a permanent WNBA residency.

2nd Star: Sabrina Ionescu

14 points, 11 assists, 5 rebounds

The Liberty’s brief playoff appearance carries a special weight and reward in the sense that they made their postseason return after enduring a two-win season in the Bradenton bubble. Her first “playoff” action since 2020’s Pac-12 tournament proved she has what it takes to lead at the WNBA level.

She believes the chemistry and camaraderie, particularly such contents built during a final stretch that included a vital win over Washington in Brooklyn, will allow the Liberty to get a head start in 2022 as their “hybrid rebuild” continues.

“We’re going to start training camp at this level,” Ionescu said. “Everything’s going to change drastically. We know each other a lot more.”

1st Star: Betnijah Laney

25 points, 4 rebounds

Laney wouldn’t let the Liberty’s season end without one more double-decalogue, taking full advantage of her first major playoff minutes, having spent two minutes on Chicago’s playoff run in 2015. The Rutgers alumna missed her first two shots as the Liberty fell behind early, but she hit 10 of her final 20, including a jaw-dropping triple that tied the game with 2.7 seconds left.

Laney’s postseason ascension further drives home her status as a leader and vital part of what’s to come. She left a dire warning for those willing to discount the Liberty after a single nationally postseason loss.

“It gives us momentum. Even if things didn’t go our way, the way we played as a group, there is a sign that we belong,” Laney said. “So we’re going to this offseason to continue to be better…come back mature next year. We’re here to stay.”

“I think there was a lot of questions in how we were going to come out, what kind of team we (were),” Laney said. “But I think that throughout the season, especially in our last game against the Mystics…I think it says a lot about this New York Liberty team. We’ll be back and we’re going to be really good.”

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Liberty clinch final spot in 2021 WNBA playoffs

The New York Liberty are playoff-bound for the first time since 2017 thanks to Sunday losses in Washington and Los Angeles.

The New York Liberty’s 25th anniversary celebration isn’t over just yet.

For the first time since 2017, the Liberty (12-20) will partake in the WNBA Playoffs. Placed in the eighth and final slot of the tournament, New York will take on the fifth-seeded Phoenix Mercury in the opening round’s single-game elimination on Thursday night (10 p.m. ET, ESPN2). The game will be held at Grand Canyon University Arena as the Mercury’s regular home of Footprint Center is occupied for a concert.

Though the Liberty’s season wrapped on Friday night, Sunday’s results allowed the team to punch its ticket. The wearers of seafoam needed losses from both the Washington Mystics and Los Angeles Sparks to extend their season. Fortunately for New York, the Minnesota Lynx and Dallas Wings were happy to provide an assist.

Minnesota topped Washington 83-77 in the nation’s capital (allowing them to move past defending champion Seattle for the No. 3 seed) while Dallas narrowly defeated Los Angeles by an 87-84 margin to finish things off. The Liberty set up the Sunday scenarios with a 91-80 win over Washington on Friday night at Barclays Center, a win that snapped an eight-game losing streak.

New York now returns to the playoffs after enduring a two-win showing in the Bradenton bubble, one that forced the team to rely on the services of seven rookies, including touted top overall pick Sabrina Ionescu. The Oregon alumna partook in only three games before an injury erased most of her freshman campaign. She returned to a revamped Liberty squad that brought in Bradenton’s Most Improved Player and Rutgers Betnijah Laney, as well as WNBA champions Natasha Howard and Sami Whitcomb through a trade.

This Liberty season, their first as full-time tenants in Barclays Center, began with wins in five of its first six games, the first of which ended in a game-winning buzzer-beater from Ionescu. Though things cooled down in terms of wins and losses, the Liberty made several proud strides throughout the season.

Laney was invited to her first WNBA All-Star Game while Ionescu earned the 10th triple-double in WNBA history in a May victory over Minnesota. Paced by Whitcomb’s 76 (second-best in the league behind Arike Ogunbowale of Dallas), the Liberty also set a new WNBA record with 321 successful three-point attempts. Bec Allen finished third in the league in steals (1.6 per game) while Michaela Onyenwere (8.6 points, 2.9 rebounds per game) is considered a front-runner for the league’s Rookie of the Year Award.

The Liberty and Mercury, two of the WNBA’s three remaining original franchises that remain situated in their original markets (Los Angeles is the other) have met twice in the WNBA Playoffs. New York took the first matchup to advance to the inaugural WNBA Finals in 1997 while Phoenix upset the Liberty as an eighth seed in 2016. Phoenix won two of the three matchups between the teams this season, the most recent being an 80-64 triumph on August 27 in Brooklyn. Two members of the Liberty’s bubble squad, Kia Nurse and Megan Walker, currently reside on the Mercury roster as they were dealt out west in the Howard/Whitcomb deal that also involved the Seattle Storm.

Full WNBA Playoff Schedule

Date Game Time (ET) TV
September 23 No. 7 Dallas @ No. 6 Chicago 8 p.m. ESPN2
September 23 No. 8 LIBERTY @ No. 5 Phoenix 10 p.m. ESPN2
September 26 TBD @ No. 3 Minnesota TBD ABC or ESPN2
September 26 TBD @ No. 4 Seattle TBD ABC or ESPN2
September 28 TBD @ No. 1 Connecticut (Game 1) 8 p.m. ESPN2
September 28 TBD @ No. 2 Las Vegas (Game 1) 10 p.m. ESPN2
September 30 TBD @ Connecticut (Game 2) 8 p.m. ESPN2
September 30 TBD @ Las Vegas (Game 2) 10 p.m. ESPN2
October 3 Connecticut @ TBD (Game 3) TBD TBD
October 3 Las Vegas @ TBD (Game 3) TBD TBD
October 6 Connecticut @ TBD (Game 4)* TBD TBD
October 6 Las Vegas @ TBD (Game 4)* TBD TBD
October 8 TBD @ Connecticut (Game 5)* TBD ESPN2
October 8 TBD @ Las Vegas (Game 5) TBD ESPN2
October 10 WNBA Finals (Game 1) 3 p.m. ABC
October 13 WNBA Finals (Game 2) 9 p.m. ESPN
October 15 WNBA Finals (Game 3) 9 p.m. ESPN2
October 17 WNBA Finals (Game 4)* 3 p.m. ESPN
October 19 WNBA Finals (Game 5)* 9 p.m. ESPN2
*-If Necessary

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Liberty: Three stars from Friday’s win vs. Washington

Time will tell if the playoffs await, but the New York Liberty ended its season on the right note at Barclays Center on Friday.

This week’s metropolitan endeavor against the Washington basketball team was far more lucrative than the matchup against the football squad.

The New York Liberty ended its regular season on a strong note on Friday night at Barclays Center, topping the Washington Mystics by a 91-80 final. New York (12-20) snapped an eight-game losing streak with their triumph and will now await results from the weekend games. New York needs both Los Angeles and Washington to lose on Sunday to clinch its first playoff berth since 2017. The Mystics (12-19) return to the nation’s capital to battle the Minnesota Lynx (3 p.m. ET, ESPN3) while the Sparks battle the Dallas Wings on the road (5 p.m. ET, NBA TV).

Even if the playoffs aren’t to be, the Liberty set a WNBA record on Friday night, sinking their 317th three-pointer of the season, passing the 2019 Mystics. New York led by as many as 24, withstanding a 29-point effort from Ariel Atkins. Tina Charles, the all-time leading scorer in team history, was held to 10 points in defeat.

ESM has three standouts from the victorious finale…

Honorable Mentions

  • Sami Whitcomb: 13 points, 7 rebounds
  • Bec Allen: 9 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists

3rd Star: Betnijah Laney

10 points, 11 assists

It was a tough shooting night for Laney (3-of-13 from the field) but served as a facilitator all night with her passing and ability to contribute on double-teams. Laney also continued a growing role as a face of New York basketball by addressing the crowd on Fan Appreciation Night prior to tip-off, thanking them for the season-long support and encouraging them to get loud for the big contest.

2nd Star: Sabrina Ionescu

22 points, 9 assists, 5 rebounds

The Liberty’s first full-time Brooklyn ledger ended as it began: a Sabrina Ionescu buzzer-beater.

This edition wasn’t as dramatic…her shot clock-beating tally simply created the final 11-point margin…but served as one final crowd-pleaser to end Ionescu’s de facto rookie season on a high note. Ionescu ended the year with double figures in her final 11 games of the year. She also shot at least 50 percent in three of the final four. After the game, the California native and Oregon alumna said that New York was “starting to feel like home for a lot of us”.

“We’re proud of what we’ve accomplished, but this is just the beginning. I’m so excited for the future of this team,” Ionescu said. “We’ve talked about, that feeling of growth and unity is really what this team’s about and why they put us all together…the fans were amazing…we heard them, felt them, it was electric.”

1st Star: Natasha Howard

24 points, 10 rebounds

The Liberty’s Natasha Howard sample size was small thanks to an injury that cost “Flash” most of her debut year in New York. She saved the best for last, scoring 11 points in the first quarter en route to an 11-for-13 performance on the evening. Howard began to resemble her dominant self in the latter stages of the Liberty’s season, shooting 64 percent from the field over her last four games.

New Yorkers were most impressed with Howard’s leadership in the final game. Along with Whitcomb and Laney, Howard was one of those who took charge during a third-quarter timeout called and organized by players when Washington trimmed the Liberty’s 24-point lead. Howard herself admitted she isn’t the loudest motivator, but believed that had to change if the Liberty were to end the season the right way.

“Tonight I was talking a lot…it was time for me to step up to that plate, be more vocal,” she said. “When game time came, we were locked in…our growth came, we called stayed together, fought, and came out with a win.”

Head coach Walt Hopkins described Howard as a “sneaky vocal leader”, one who wanted to lead by example. Concerning the aforementioned timeout, Hopkins was further pleased with his players’ willingness to hold each other accountable.

“They needed to hear from each other,” he said. “I can yell until I’m blue in the face…your teammates, you’re not going to (ignore) your teammates. I was really proud of them.”

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Liberty: 3 stars from Wednesday’s loss at Connecticut

The New York Liberty’s WNBA playoff hopes were dealt a major blow after a tough second half in Uncasville.

The New York Liberty’s playoff bid came up snake eyes at Mohegan Sun Arena.

Outscored by a 54-22 margin in the second, the Liberty dropped its eighth consecutive contest, falling by a 98-67 final to the Connecticut Sun on Wednesday. New York (11-20) will now need a win over the Washington Mystics in Friday night’s regular season finale in Brooklyn (7 p.m. ET, YES) and some help from their friends to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2017.

The Liberty jumped out to a 16-5 lead in the early stages of the first quarter, which they won by a 24-20 advantage. However, the wheels fell off in the second half, drawing the ire of head coach Walt Hopkins.

“We gave up. I think the team gave up in the second half, they got punched me four or five times turned the ball over a few times and Connecticut showed why they’re the best team in the league and we showed why we’re having trouble closing games,” Hopkins bluntly declared in the aftermath. “We have to get tougher. You got to want it more, and we gave up.”

New York can still reach the postseason through a win on Friday, plus a further loss from Washington on Sunday afternoon and a Los Angeles Sparks defeat over their final two games.

Six players reached double-figures for Connecticut (25-6), which not only won its franchise-record 13th game in a row but also clinched the top seed in the playoffs.

ESM looks back on three silver linings from this latest defeat…

3rd Star: Sabrina Ionescu

12 points, 5 assists, 2 steals

Ionescu has reached double-figures in all ten games of the post-Olympic slate. She vowed to help the Liberty re-establish its never-say-die identity that they’ve carried and lived up to for most of the season.

“We’re going to play our heart out, regardless of whether it’s a must-win for us,” Ionescu said. “It’s about figuring out what we need to do to win, and how to finish this year on the right note.”

 

2nd Star: Michaela Onyenwere

14 points (5-of-6 FG)

Onyenwere has come off the bench over the last two Liberty games after spending most of the year in the starting lineup. The Rookie of the Year frontrunner has responded well to the new role as a second unit energizer, hitting 7-of-9 from the field in the last couple.

The UCLA alumna provided a moment of levity in the somber aftermath when she declared the only difference between her starter’s mindset and reserve mindset was her lack of a pregame dance routine.

“We didn’t respond the way we wanted to,” Onyenwere analyzed. “We know at this point we have a lot to fight for. We didn’t necessarily show that in the best way.”

1st Star: Natasha Howard

25 points, 8 rebounds, 3 blocks

Howard continued her decent return from injury, sparking the Liberty’s hot start with 10 points in the first quarter. While Hopkins pointed out that she was one of the few New Yorkers that kept her energy going throughout the game, he did that the 18 turnovers between she and Ionescu were “unacceptable”.

“Second half, we kind of gave in,” Howard said. “We stopped doing the things we were doing in the first half…we weren’t being tough. That’s the difference…that’s what we’ve been preaching: we’ve got to be tough.”

Howard briefly left the game in the final quarter with an ankle injury that forced her to go to the locker room under the supervision of trainer Terri Acosta. She said after the game that it was merely a “tweak” and she was able to finish things off without incident.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Liberty: Three stars from Saturday’s loss at Dallas

The New York Liberty’s playoff dreams were dealt a major blow in their penultimate road game of the season in Dallas.

Thrilling September matchups between New York and Dallas are no longer limited to the gridiron. These, in fact, bear greater importance on their respective league’s playoff picture.

Alas for the metropolitans, however, another loss built on development has dealt a sizable blow to their postseason aspirations.

The Dallas Wings took advantage of a 21-10 advantage in the fourth quarter, paced by a combined 34 points off the bench from Marina Mabrey and Satou Sabally, to earn a narrow 77-76 victory over the New York Liberty on Saturday night in the Lone Star State. Dallas (13-17) clinched its first WNBA playoff berth since 2018, leaving only one spot up for grabs as the end of the regular season approaches.

The Liberty (11-19) are one of three teams fighting for that eighth and final seed with two games left on their regular season schedule. That pair starts Wednesday against Connecticut (7 p.m. ET, CBSSN) and concludes with a matchup against their fellow fighters from Washington on Friday. New York has lost control of the final seeds through a 1-8 stretch in the post-Olympic slate.

ESM has three stars from the latest defeat…

3rd Star: Sabrina Ionescu

18 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists

In the midst of some brutal defeats, Ionescu is posting Ionescu-esque numbers again. She has reached double figures in scoring in all nine post-Olympic games to date, averaging 14.3 points and 6.0 rebounds and assists in the first nine games back. Head coach Walt Hopkins was quick to point out the silver lining of Ionescu’s return to form, calling her “strides” a major pillar of the long-term picture.

2nd Star: Natasha Howard

16 points, 11 rebounds

Though some turnovers at the worst possible team clouded the metropolitan progress, Howard earned her third double-double in the post-Olympic slate in the midst of defeat. She’s shooting 60 percent of the floor (15-of-25) over her past two contests.

 

1st Star: Betnijah Laney

19 points, 6 assists 

If anyone knows about the proverbial “process” of WNBA success, it’s Laney. The Rutgers alumna endured spent four seasons in professional purgatory before a breakout campaign in the Bradenton bubble netted her last season’s Most Improved Player award. Laney has kept the momentum up in her return to the tri-state area, topping the Liberty in scoring. She took on a verbal role in Saturday’s postgame comments, citing “simple” issues that lead to losses amidst the progress away from the scoreboard.

“We’re not really dwelling on it, but learning from it…We see it, we know it, but we just got to get over the hump of just the little things that have just been holding us back,” Laney said of the losing streak and the hidden silver linings. “Once we really focus in and are able to control those things we’ll be in good shape, we just have to marry that with the progress that we’ve been making…We’ve had progress, so we keep that, going into these games, we just tweak the things that have been holding us back. I think that the progress in the detail that we’ve been making these past few games flow will hopefully show up and give us the results that we want.”

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

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

The New York Liberty controlled Thursday’s game for three quarters, but they still couldn’t steal one from the defending champions.

Facing an increasingly dire situation in the WNBA’s playoff standings, the New York Liberty needed to steal one from the defending champion Seattle Storm on Thursday night at Angel of the Winds Arena.

For three quarters, they seemed well on their way. But Breanna Stewart unleashed her personal brand of Seattle storm on the reeling New Yorkers.

The MVP candidate tallied a game-best 33 points, helping the Storm fully reverse a 10-point deficit against the Liberty en route to an 85-75 triumph at home. New York (11-18) has now lost six in a row as they’ve fallen out of the WNBA’s current playoff bracket. The idle Washington Mystics now hold the eighth and final seed as the WNBA season enters its final stages.

New York has three games remaining as they’ll next play on Sept. 11 in Dallas (8 p.m. ET, WNBA League Pass).

ESM has three stars from this latest defeat…

3rd Star: Natasha Howard

15 points, 6 rebounds, 2 steals

A vital piece from the Storm’s victorious endeavor in the Bradenton bubble, Howard made her return to her former Seattle stomping grounds and was bestowed a championship ring alongside Sami Whitcomb (who played 12 minutes in her second game back from injury). She shot a season-best 64 percent from the field (7-of-11). Making Thursday’s loss even tougher to bear was the fact the Liberty were unable to secure Howard a special birthday gift: the three-time champion’s return to the Pacific Northwest coincided with her 30th celebration.

2nd Star: Bec Allen

17 points, 2 steals

Allen’s streak of earning at least eight rebounds stopped at three games, but she fell just two points short of her season-best in scoring. The Australian Opal has become one of the most productive New Yorkers since returning from Tokyo, averaging 12.7 points and 5.3 rebounds over the past seven games. Thursday marked the fifth time in that span that she has reached double figures in scoring. Head coach Walt Hopkins referred to Allen’s contributions as “tremendous” in the aftermath.

“Her energy has been so consistent,” Hopkins said. “Bec somebody who has a tendency to be hard on herself. She has not let herself get out of the game in a long time. She’s not let herself get frustrated and take herself out. She’s been really resilient and really proud of the way that she’s grown in terms of her emotional and mental approach to what she’s doing.”

1st Star: Sabrina Ionescu

20 points, 7 assists

In the midst of some tough New York efforts, Ionescu is starting to put up Ionescu-esque numbers against. A return to the PNW area did the ex-Oregon Duck some good. With former collegiate head coach Kelly Graves in attendance, Ionescu helped the Liberty build a consistent lead in the first half. She was mostly held in check in the second half, but she still managed to facilitate and set up metropolitan opportunities. Ionescu has reached double-figures in scoring in all eight post-Olympic games and has averaged just over six assists in that span.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Liberty: Three stars from Tuesday’s loss at Minnesota

The Minnesota Lynx shut down the New York Liberty’s illustrious outside attack, dooming them to their eighth loss in the last nine games.

Kayla McBride and Napheesa Collier united for 46 points for the Minnesota Lynx on Tuesday night, with the former’s 25 leading the way in a 74-66 victory over the New York Liberty.

The reeling New Yorkers (11-17) have now lost eight of their last nine as they enter the homestretch of the 2021 WNBA season. Minnesota (16-9) shut down the Liberty’s renowned outside game, holding them to a 21 percent success rate (5-of-24). It was part of a brutal night from the field overall, as the Liberty shot 32 percent (23-of-71) on the evening, their third-worst output of the season.

The Liberty nonetheless leave Target Center as the owners of the WNBA’s eighth and final playoff spot thanks to a Los Angeles loss to Indiana and Washington’s defeat at the hands of Connecticut. New York returns to action on Thursday night against the Seattle Storm (10 p.m. ET, YES/Amazon Prime)

ESM bestows three game balls from this latest defeat…

3rd Star: Kylee Shook

6 points (3-3 FG), 2 rebounds

Shook was the only New Yorker to shoot in the black, hitting some big doubles under the basket to help the Liberty keep pace. The sophomore’s development has remained a priority for the Liberty, even with Natasha Howard coming back and the team trying to wrap up an elusive playoff berth. She capitalized in her 11 minutes of action on Tuesday.

2nd Star: Betnijah Laney 

17 points, 3 rebounds

Obviously, no one in New York would say no to a playoff berth, but a postseason appearance would mean a little bit more to Laney. The Rutgers alumna and the Liberty’s leading scorer has accomplished much over the last two seasons, but the accomplishment of appearing amongst the league’s final eight has remained elusive. She believes that the team will be well-equipped for the final run if they focus on the immediate future.

“I think right now the most important thing for us is really just focusing on taking a game by game, step by step, to not get too far ahead of ourselves, not thinking big picture right now,” Laney has said of the Liberty regaining their focus during the losing streak at the worst possible time. “I think that we really need to just focus on what’s in front of us.”

1st Star: Michaela Onyenwere

11 points, 10 rebounds

Though the WNBA’s Rookie of the Year frontrunner was not immune to the Liberty’s shooting struggles (3-of-12, 2-of-7 from three-point range), she made personal and team history through her first professional double-double. With her performance on the boards, Onyenwere became the ninth rookie in team history to reach double-figures in rebounds in a single game.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Liberty: 3 stars from Friday’s loss vs. Phoenix

Sabrina Ionescu nearly earned another triple-double but it wasn’t enough to put the New York Liberty back on the right track.

Sabrina Ionescu is starting to reach familiar, historic heights again. Alas, even that doesn’t appear to be enough for the New York Liberty to get back on the right track.

Skylar Diggins-Smith tallied 27 points en route to an 80-64 victory for the Phoenix Mercury at Barclays Center on Friday night. Another sterling performance from Diggins-Smith, who also had seven assists, allowed the Mercury to sweep a crucial two-game set on the road from New York (11-16). She also had 27 in the prior victory on Wednesday night.

Diggins-Smith’s showing overshadowed what was nearly another historic outing for Ionescu, who fell one assist short of her second career triple-double. She previously earned the 10th such showing in WNBA history on May 18 against Minnesota.

Phoenix (15-10) has won a WNBA-best six in a row while the Liberty have dropped their last four. New York is currently tied with the Los Angeles Sparks for the Association’s final playoff spot, though the latter has two games in hand. The Liberty suffered a bit of a big blow as Jazmine Jones returned to the lineup after four games off with a right foot injury but had to leave with another lower-body ailment in the second half.

ESM has three game balls from Friday’s defeat…

3rd Star: Bec Allen

8 points, 8 rebounds, 3 blocks

Allen’s streak of double-figure showings in scoring ended at a career-best four games in a row. But she continued to provide an interior prescience, matching her eight-board showing from Wednesday in her second game subbing for Sami Whitcomb in the starting five. That tally allowed her to set a new career-best in rebounding (75) breaking past the 67 she picked up in 2017.

2nd Star: Natasha Howard

18 points, 7 rebounds

Another poor shooting night doomed the Liberty, who sank only 37 percent of their attempts from the field. Howard was the lone exception to the carnage. She slowly began to resemble her old dominant self with an 8-of-14 output, her first night in the black since the first game in the post-Olympic slate on August 15. Head coach Walt Hopkins noted that Howard looked “poised in the post” in Friday’s output, which saw the Liberty force a tie in the third quarter after falling behind by as much as 19 in the first half. Howard herself gained some clarity on what she and the Liberty need as they prepare for the final push over the next five games.

“The little things we can control are rebounding, turnovers, and communication…I need to be more of a leader on the floor and not get frustrated,” she said. “We did really well pushing the ball and screening…we’ll need to build on that when we play Minnesota (on Tuesday).”

1st Star: Sabrina Ionescu

12 points, 10 rebounds, 9 assists

Not everything is perfect for Ionescu, even though she nearly became the first player in WNBA history to earn multiple triple-doubles in the regular season (Sheryl Swoopes had one in both the regular season and the postseason). She shot 5-of-16 from the field on Friday and turned the ball over three times. As injuries and calamities continue to pile up for a Liberty franchise in desperate need of on-court stability, a big opportunity lies at the end of her de facto rookie season: if she can somehow push the Liberty into the playoffs over these final hours, it would be a solid boost of momentum in what’s been a roller-coaster WNBA career thus far.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Liberty: Three stars from Wednesday’s loss vs. Phoenix

Despite further energy from DiDi Richards, the New York Liberty couldn’t overcome a garish first quarter on Wednesday night against Phoenix.

On a night where the New York Liberty honored one of the most accomplished sharpshooters in franchise history, their visitors came ready for the occasion.

Three members of the Phoenix Mercury cross the 20-point plateau (paced by 27 from Skylar Diggins-Smith) while Brianna Turner (10 points, 12 rebounds) earned her third double-double over the last four games. Their antics paced a 35-19 first quarter advantage, which was enough to power the Mercury to a 106-79 victory over the Liberty on Wednesday night at Barclays Center. Their visit coincided with the Liberty’s induction of Crystal Robinson, the franchise’s all-time leader in three-pointers (400), into their Ring of Honor.

Phoenix (14-10) has now won five in a row to move into fifth place on the WNBA playoff bracket. The Liberty (11-15) have dropped four of their first five in the post-Olympic slate. A chance for redemption awaits on Friday night in a rematch with the Mercury (8 p.m. ET, CBSSN).

Brittney Griner had 26 points for the Mercury but left the game with a late injury that required assistance from trainers to leave the floor. Wednesday also marked a homecoming showcase for Kia Nurse, the Liberty first-round pick from 2018. Nurse earned six points after being dealt from New York to the desert in the multi-team deal that brought Natasha Howard and Sami Whitcomb to Brooklyn.

ESM has three silver linings from this latest defeat.

3rd Star: Bec Allen

12 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals

2nd Star: Betnijah Laney

20 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists

1st Star: DiDi Richards

14 points, 3 rebounds

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

New York Liberty: 3 stars from Sunday’s loss vs. Los Angeles

Bookended by brutal turnover tallies, the New York Liberty’s spectator-free experience ended in heartbreak.

Despite making franchise history on Sunday in Brooklyn, a brief return to bubbled setting produced only heartbreak for the New York Liberty.

With fans and media asked to stay home in the wake of Tropical Storm Henri, the Liberty dropped an 86-83 decision to the Los Angeles Sparks at Barclays Center. Rutgers alumna Erica Wheeler led Los Angeles with 17 points, while Nneka Ogwumike provided 16 more.

Turnovers defined the day for the Liberty (11-14), as they lost the ball 10 times in a fourth quarter Los Angeles won by a 20-11 margin. The Liberty must also deal with questions around Sami Whitcomb, as the scorer of a team-high 17 points (tied with Natasha Howard) left the game in the latter stages with an apparent ankle injury. New York will next welcome in the Phoenix Mercury for a two-game set in Brooklyn beginning on Wednesday night (7 p.m. ET, YES/NBA TV).

The Liberty’s loss did feature some team history. With 16 successful three-pointers, they set a new franchise record for triples in a single game.

ESM has three standouts from Sunday’s defeat…

Honorable Mentions

  • Betnijah Laney: 10 points, 9 assists
  • Reshanda Gray: 5 rebounds

3rd Star: Bec Allen

15 points, 5 assists, 2 blocks

Allen continued her torrid post-Olympic pace by sinking five triples on Sunday, giving her a career-best 35 for the season and 106 for her career. The latter mark allowed her to move into sole possession of 15th place on the Liberty’s all-time triples list, passing Sophia Witherspoon. She has reached double-figures in three straight games, another personal record.

“It’s (about) understanding your role and how roles have changed during seasons and within a season, too,” Allen said of her evolution from the outside. “I think it’s just having that mental state, that place of being a scorer. It’s always a good thing for me.”

2nd Star: Sami Whitcomb

17 points, 4 rebounds

The Liberty not only lost a crucial game in terms of playoff positioning on Sunday, but they also may have lost one of their most important pieces from both a performance and emotional standpoint. Whitcomb rolled her ankle as the Liberty tried to stage a final push and had to be assisted off the court by Sabrina Ionescu and team trainer Terri Acosta. A statement from the Liberty released in the aftermath revealed that Whitcomb sprained her ankle and will be out for at least the next 10-14 days. New York plays four times in that span, starting with Wednesday’s return to Brooklyn against Phoenix. Whitcomb is the WNBA’s lead in success three-pointers (69), leading her closest competition (Arike Ogunbowale of Dallas) by 12.

“It’s an awful thing to say you don’t want any of your teammates to go down,” Allen said of Whitcomb’s departure. “Sami’s obviously a big part of our team so I just hope that she gets better soon. Obviously, she needs to focus on her health and getting it right. But it didn’t happen in a good moment for us at all.”

1st Star: Natasha Howard

17 points, 11 rebounds, 3 steals

As Betnijah Laney struggled through another tough shooting night (2-of-12), Howard improved to 6-of-13 after a tough night on Friday against Seattle and earned a double-double for the second straight contest. She has averaged 17 points and over seven rebounds in her first four games back from a sprained MCL sustained in the pre-Olympic slate. Howard claimed that she’s “starting to feel like (herself) again”, which could be big as the Liberty prepare to make one last push for the playoffs.

“We’ve got to make sure we’re locked in at every moment because every moment counts,” Howard said as the Liberty try to clinch their first playoff spot since 2017.  “We’ve got to make sure we do what we need to do, play against speed…we have to throw this game against LA behind us. Our focus is now on Phoenix.”

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags