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: 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

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

A one-sided third quarter doomed the New York Liberty in their last showing before the WNBA’s month-long All-Star/Olympic break.

The Connecticut Sun shined a little too bright for the New York Liberty on Sunday afternoon, particularly in the third quarter.

Paced by 17 points and 17 rebounds from Jonquel Jones, the Sun held off the pesky Liberty to the tune of an 18-9 advantage in the third quarter, allowing them to roll to a 71-54 victory at Barclays Center. Despite the loss, the Liberty (10-11) are among the league’s eight playoff teams as the WNBA embarks on a month-long hiatus to allow its players to partake in both the WNBA All-Star Game and the Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

Thus ends a New York odyssey that featured several changed commercials flights and hours of delays due to heavy rains brought about by Tropical Storm Elsa. Liberty owner Joe Tsai has vowed to fight the travel problems.

New York’s Betnijah Laney will appear alongside the rest of the Association’s All-Stars as they battle the United States Olympic unit on Wednesday (7 p.m. ET, ESPN) while Sami Whitcomb will partake in the three-point contest on that same night. In Tokyo, Rebecca Alen will represent Australia while overseas holdover Han Xu is set to appear on China’s squad. The Liberty return to action on August 15 at Minnesota (7 p.m. ET, YES/Facebook).

ESM has three game balls to send the Liberty into the break…

3rd Star: Reshanda Gray

8 points, 5 rebounds

Adding Gray for the remainder of the season could be huge for the Liberty, who have come to adore her physicality in the paint. Though Gray posted  relatively pedestrian numbers in her final pre-break showing, she set some personal history by sinking each of her two attempts from three-point range after sinking only 1-of-8 over her first four WNBA seasons.

2nd Star: Michaela Onyenwere

12 points, 4 rebounds

As one of only two New Yorkers in double figures, Onyenwere did her best to keep the Liberty in the game by getting to the foul line, hitting five of her six visits. At the break, Onyenwere is the runaway favroite for the league’s Rookie of the Year, leading all first-years in scoring (9.8 per game entering Sunday) and posting a runner-up finish in rebounding (2.9).

1st Star: Kylee Shook

16 points, 2 assists, 1 block

Shook set a new career-best in scoring for the second straight game. Thrust into the starting lineup for all but one game this season thanks to Natasha Howard’s injury, Shook’s development has been one of the most promising storylines of the first half. Alas, her development was the brightest…and perhaps only…the Liberty could’ve taken from Sunday. Taking away Shook’s 6-of-8 showing, the Liberty shot 11-of-48 (23 percent) from the field.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Liberty: 3 stars from Monday’s win vs. Dallas

The New York Liberty won consecutive games for the first time since May, beating the Dallas Wings in a Monday thriller.

Thrilling athletic contests between New York and Dallas are no longer limited to Sunday afternoons and evenings in the fall.

Sabrina Ionescu earned a double-double on a record-setting evening, as the New York Liberty earned a 99-96 win over the Dallas Wings on Monday night at Barclays Center. The Liberty (10-9) earned consecutive wins for the first time since May 23-24 and set a franchise record with 15 three-pointers in a single game.

Five players from the Liberty reached double figures, paced by 26 from Sami Whitcomb and 18 more from Betnijah Laney. Jazmine Jones would add 17 more off the bench. Dallas (9-10) enjoyed a game-high 23 off the bench from Isabelle Harrison. New York has won each of the first two matchups and will face the Wings one last time on September 11.

ESM has three game balls to bestow from the victory…

3rd Star: Reshanda Gray

11 points, 6 rebounds, 2 steals 

Gray once again made her prescience felt in the interior and came up big as the game reached its dying stages, once again proving herself more than worthy of her newly attained full-season deal.

As Dallas inched their way back into the game, Gray helped preserve the Liberty lead, first earning a crucial rebound after a missed Harrison free throw that soon became Laney’s record-tying triple. After an Ionescu miss on the other end, Gray wrenched the rebound away from a Dallas pursuer to put it back in and preserve the seven-point advantage. When Dallas had one more shot after Jones missed a free throw, Gray kept the ball in the air to round out the clock and avoid a foul.

2nd Star: Sabrina Ionescu

13 points (5-of-9 FG), 12 assists

Ionescu’s rediscovered shooting touch couldn’t have come at a better time for New York. The Liberty are now 5-0 when she shoots at least 50 percent from the floor, and she has now done so in consecutive games. Going up against former Oregon teammate Satou Sabally, Ionescu earned her first double-double since May 23, uniting with fellow Pac-12 alumna Gray once again for some big baskets.

1st Star: Sami Whitcomb

26 points (10-of-16 FG), 7 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals

Whitcomb, whom many have credited as being the heart and soul of this Liberty roster…as well as its biggest All-Star snub…did it all on Monday night. She helped the Liberty get off to a strong start with 15 first half points and finished in with some crucial daggers, including the triple that not only broke the team record but gave the Liberty a sizable six-point lead with just under a minute remaining.

Though Whitcomb is best known for her outside endeavors…she was one triple short of tying the single-game record she shares with five others…her rebounding and interior work has come up huge for a Liberty squad that’s still treading water while Natasha Howard heals. Whitcomb has averaged over seven rebounds a game over her last four games and Monday marked the seventh time in the last eight games where she had at least six.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Liberty: 3 stars from Saturday’s win vs. Washington

In an utterly symbolic showing, the New York Liberty erased a deficit as high as 20 to earn a big win over Tina Charles and the Mystics.

Independence Day weekend featured the red, white, and blue and some early fireworks at Barclays Center.

The hosting New York Liberty came out clean on the other side, erasing a 20-point deficit to earn an 82-79 victory over the Washington Mystics on Saturday afternoon in Brooklyn. The game marked the return of Queens native and all-time Liberty leading scorer Tina Charles. She earned 31 points and 16 rebounds, but it wasn’t enough to topple her former squadron. It was an emotional victory for New York, who lost rookie DiDi Richards to a neck sprain injury in the third quarter.

ESM has three game balls to distribute for the victorious Liberty (9-9), who return to action on Monday night against the Dallas Wings (7 p.m. ET, YES)…

3rd Star: Reshanda Gray

11 points, 6 rebounds

On her fifth New York term…her third this season alone…Gray came up big in her first game back with the team. She provided a strong defensive prescience, hindering Charles and providing strong double-teams when she good, and came up with some crucial rebounds. Gary’s late baskets, off assists from Sabrina Ionescu, showcased her cutting abilities in the paint, a vital skill in the Walt Hopkins system. Looking at the way she played on Saturday, it was as if she never left.

2nd Star: Sabrina Ionescu

15 points (6-7 FG), 5 rebounds, 5 assists

Slowly but surely, Ionescu (somewhat stifled by a 25-minute ceiling/pitch count) was starting to look like her old self after missing two games due to what was described as an “overuse” injury. The one thing that was missing, however, was her shooting touch. Though she found other ways to contribute (averaging 5.5 rebounds and 5.3 assists over her last four games), there’s no doubt the Liberty missed her scoring prowess. After Saturday’s nearly flawless showing, New York is 4-0 when she shoots at least 50 percent from the field.

1st Star: Jazmine Jones

17 points, 5 rebounds

The departure of Richards was particularly tough on Jones, who has taken the second-round pick under her wing. She has likewise united with Richards to create a lively bench atmosphere, making a difference even when she’s out of the ball game. Jones did what she could to make her fallen teammate proud, as immediately after Richards’ departure, she fulfilled her promises of energy with a somersault dive into the Washington bench to go after a loose ball. She then went on to sink a three-pointer and two more at the foul line in the first minute after. Adding to the timeliness of the afternoon…the Liberty acquired Jones with the 12th overall pick of the 2020 WNBA Draft. That pick was obtained through none other than the Tina Charles deal with the Mystics.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

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