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 Friday’s loss vs. Seattle

A respectable rematch effort against the reloaded defending champs wasn’t enough for the New York Liberty to steal a sweep.

The New York Liberty needed an impossible perfect game to topple a Seattle Storm team welcoming back Breanna Stewart and Sue Bird from load management. They nearly got in the first half before the visitors from the Pacific Northwest did what they did best.

Jewell Loyd followed up a career-best in scoring on Wednesday night with 29 points, while Stewart put up a double-double with 19 points and 14 rebounds. Through their efforts, Seattle turned a 47-46 halftime deficit into a 99-83 win on Friday night at Barclays Center. The Liberty (11-13) previously earned an 83-79 win over the defending champion Storm on Thursday night, erasing a 15-point deficit en route to victory. They’ll visit Seattle (18-6) on September 2 at Angel of the Winds Arena.

Samit Whitcomb (26 points) and Sabrina Ionescu (16) led the way in scoring for the Liberty. New York will return to action on Sunday afternoon against the Los Angeles Sparks (2 p.m. ET, YES). Liberty legend Crystal Robinson, the team’s all-time leader in successful three-pointers, will enter the Liberty’s Ring of Honor in a pregame ceremony.

ESM has three stars from Friday’s game in Brooklyn…

3rd Star: Bec Allen

13 points, 2 rebounds

Allen reached double-figures in scoring for the first time since June. A triple in the second half allowed her to join a vaunted New York club, as it was the 100th three-pointer in a Liberty career that began in 2015. She becomes the 16th player in franchise history to reach such a milestone.

2nd Star: Natasha Howard

11 points, 13 rebounds

Forced into a three-games-in-six-days stretch after returning from injury, Howard’s rust was apparent through a 4-of-19 shooting night from the field. Nevertheless, she was able to earn her first double-double as a member of the Liberty and first overall since last season’s bubble deflated. Liberty head coach Walt Hopkins was pleased that Howard was able to contribute despite her shots failing to fall.

“She didn’t shoot it well, but she did a ton of things well defensively,” Hopkins said. “Her footwork’s a little rusty. She’s rusty around the rim. She just needs to get her balance, her feet back. She’s going to be just fine.”

1st Star: Sami Whitcomb

26 points, 8 assists

Whitcomb might as well have still been in Seattle when she gave the Liberty the lead with a deep triple, one that brought a surprisingly bipartisan Barclays Center crowd to its feet. It was part of a strong return to form for the three-point contest bronze medalist, as Whitcomb’s five triples were her most since she had six in a July win over Dallas.

“Splitting, I think, was probably our mentality,” Whitcomb, the two-time champion with the Storm said. The loss hurts, but it doesn’t hurt (as much) if we learn something from it…I did like our looks. We just weren’t hitting them as  we were in that first half.”

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

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

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

Laney, Whitcomb rep New York Liberty at the WNBA All-Star Game

The New York Liberty were well-represented at the WNBA All-Star Game in Las Vegas, which saw the league’s brightest stars take down Team USA.

The resurgent New York Liberty were well-represented at the WNBA’s All-Star proceedings at Michelob Ultra Arena in Las Vegas on Wednesday night.

Betnijah Laney partook in the winning efforts for the league’s victorious All-Star group, who earned a 93-85 win over the United States Olympic team bound for Tokyo. Laney, the Liberty’s leading scorer at the halfway mark, put up four points, two assists, and a rebound toward the triumph. Meanwhile, Sami Whitcomb put forth a very respectable effort in the WNBA MTN DEW 3-Point contest, earning 26 points through cashing in on the “money” balls worth extra points. It was Whitcomb’s first appearance in the contest, which was won by Allie Quigley of Chicago.

This marked the third time that the league staged a “Team USA vs. WNBA” format, though the first two were not officially considered All-Star Games. New York City hosted the original matchup in 2004 at Radio City Music Hall prior to the Summer Games in Athens, while Connecticut’s Mohegan Sun Arena got the latter in 2010, a non-Olympic year. This marked the WNBA squad’s first win, as they were paced by 26 points in an MVP effort from Arike Ogunbowale of Dallas.

Laney mostly played the backup point guard role behind Courtney Vandersloot, earning nearly 17 minutes of game action. Wednesday marked Laney’s first career appearance in the WNBA All-Star Game. She’s working through her first season in New York after winning the Most Improved Player honor in last year’s bubbled season in Bradenton as a member of the Atlanta Dream.

The well-traveled Laney was particularly enthused by the chemistry she had with the rest of the WNBA squad, as she had worked with several of them in prior professional stops.

“I kind of knew everybody, considering I’ve bounced around quite a bit, so I’ve had experience playing alongside a lot of the people that I was playing with today,” Laney said with a smile. “It just felt like home, it felt it was it was really fun and I really enjoyed having the opportunity to play with them all again. I’m really glad that we came together and got the win tonight.

Laney was far from alone in representing the New York resurgence; teammates Reshanda Gray Michaela Onyenwere sat courtside with assistant coach Jacki Gemelos, whie Sabrina Ionescu watched with Kobe Bryant’s widow Vanessa and her mentor’s surviving daughters. Meanwhile, Rebecca Lobo called the game alongside Ryan Rocco for ESPN. Lobo, an original member of the Liberty, was also honored alongside other members of the 1996 United States women’s basketball contingent, whose gold medal trek from the Atlanta Games celebrates its 25th anniversary.

“I found (the experience) amazing, just for myself to just be here in this moment, you know, after everything,” Laney said after the game. “Then to have the support that I had from the team, from my family, and friends, it was just a really good experience.”

The Rutgers alumna was particularly happy to work with former collegiate and AAU teammate Kahleah Copper.

“It was really fun because this was the only level that we haven’t played on together,” Laney said of the Chicago representative. “To be able to have that opportunity out there today, you know, it was fun. I really enjoyed playing alongside her.”

Whitcomb had her time to shine at halftime, partaking in her first three-point competition. The WNBA’s leader in successful three-point attempts (56) was representing Mary’s Place, a Seattle-based non-profit that “provide(s) safe inclusive shelter and services that support women, children and families on their journey out of homelessness”. The winning shooter would receive $10,000 toward a charity of her choice.

Whitcomb’s work was immediately cut out of for her, as Connecticut’s Jonquel Jones immediately tallied 27 points in the opening round. But Whitcomb came tantalizingly close to passing her, giving a whole new definition to “Moneyball”. Whitcomb sank the money ball shot worth two points toward her tally, as well as one of the “Dew Zone” attempts worth three. With the top half of the four competitors set to advance to a final round, Whitcomb seemed well on her way, soundly beating former Seattle Storm teammate Jewell Loyd (18).

Alas, she was done in on the literal last shot, as Quigley sank her final money ball to tie Jones before winning the contest by a 28-24 margin, appropriately earning her third three-point trophy.

Team USA was paced by 17 points from Brittney Griner of Phoenix. They’ll remain in Las Vegas for further training, which includes exhibitions against Australia and Nigeria, before opening Olympic play on July 27 against the latter (12:40 a.m. ET/tape delay: 4:15 p.m. ET, USA). USA has been paired in a group with Nigeria, France, and host nation Japan.

Other Liberty representation in the Tokyo Games includes Rebecca Allen of Australia and international holdovers Marine Johannes (France) and Han Xu (China).

The Liberty return to action on August 15 against the Minnesota Lynx (7 p.m. ET, YES/Facebook).

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Liberty: 3 stars from Friday’s loss at Indiana

A hard-luck travel saga brought about by inclement weather gave way to a tough loss for the New York Liberty on Friday in Indianapolis.

Facing an Indiana Fever squad whose jerseys resembled the aesthetic from the Netflix series Stranger Things, the New York Liberty got trapped in the Upside Down before they made it to Hawkins.

Behind 18 points each from Kelsey Mitchell and Danielle Robinson, the Fever (3-16) earned consecutive wins for the first time this season, topping the Liberty by an 82-69 final at Indiana Farmers Coliseum on Friday night. New York (10-10) only arrived in Indianapolis hours before game time, as their Thursday flight out was canceled due to heavy rains. The Liberty scored 28 points in the first quarter in building a five-point lead but struggled from there on out, dropping back to .500 and ending a brief two-game winning streak.

Despite the loss, the Liberty did take two of three meetings from the Fever this season. New York will wrap up its pre-Olympic break slate on Sunday afternoon at home against Connecticut (2 p.m. ET, YES/ESPN3)

ESM has three silver linings in defeat…

3rd Star: Sami Whitcomb

10 points, 5 rebounds

Though it was a tough shooting day for Whitcomb (4-of-11 from the field), she did receive some good news in the midst of the Liberty odyssey. She is set to join Betnijah Laney in Las Vegas for the All-Star Game festivities, competing against former Seattle teammate Jewell Loyd, as well as Jonquel Jones and Allie Quigley, in the exhibition’s three-point competition. Whitcomb leads the league with 55 successful triples.

2nd Star: Kylee Shook

13 points, 6 rebounds

Teaming up with Reshanda Gray to hold notable Liberty killer Teaira McCowan in relative check (6-of-13 FG), Shook earned a new career-best in scoring. If anything, the Liberty’s rebounding efforts against Indiana can be commended. After getting outgained 45-28 on the glass in their first meeting, the Liberty won Friday’s battle by a 38-32 tally. Alas, turnovers proved to be the difference, as New York lost the ball 20 times.

1st Star: Betnijah Laney

23 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists

Laney reached her customary 20 points under less than ideal circumstances, but she did provide a quantum of revenge to one of her many former employers. Though Indiana cracked down on her for the remainder of the game (a task made all the more difficult by the loss of Bec Allen to Australia’s Olympic prep), the Liberty’s early surge was fueled by 13 early points from their All-Star representative. New York is 7-5 when Laney reaches at least 20 points.

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: Three stars from Saturday’s win at Atlanta

A career-best in scoring for Sami Whitcomb paced the New York Liberty to a win in the first half of an Atlanta doubleheader.

A career-best evening for Sami Whitcomb paced the New York Liberty to a healthy 101-78 victory over the Atlanta Dream on Saturday night at Gateway Center Arena at College Park. The win snaps a two-game losing streak and pushes the Liberty back to the .500 mark (8-8). It’s also the first part of a doubleheader in Georgia, as New York and Atlanta (5-9) will face off again on Tuesday night (7 p.m. ET, ESPN3).

ESM hands out game balls from the most one-sided victory of the Walt Hopkins era…

3rd Star: Michaela Onyenwere

18 points, 2 rebounds

After recovering to have a strong second half in Thursday’s Chicago debacle, Onyenwere kept the good vibes rolling with a 6-of-8 shooting performance from the field. The rookie out of UCLA has become the Liberty’s most potent interior threat in the absence of the injured Natasha Howard and flashed her physicality with eight visits to the foul line, sinking all but one.

2nd Star: Betnijah Laney

28 points, 6 assists, 3 rebounds

Laney returned to her customary 20-point showing, but it didn’t come easy. The former Atlanta rep took a hard hit in the second half on what became a flagrant foul, which could’ve been a crushing blow to a team that’s already missing Howard and Rebecca Allen. But much like her hockey brothers and sisters, Laney didn’t miss a shift, instead returning to post her best scoring output since sinking 30 on opening night. She wasn’t the only one returning to scoring landmarks. Sabrina Ionescu put up 10 points in her return to the starting lineup, her first time in double digits since May 24.

1st Star: Sami Whitcomb

28 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists

Whitcomb was strong right from the get-go, making a mark on both her personal and the team’s record books. She tied her personal best in scoring (originally 22 points in a 2017 game against the Liberty) before the first half even let out, breaking it at one of the most crucial points of the game. As the Dream slowly inched their way back in, cutting the New York lead down to four, a crucial, deep three from Whitcomb ignited a 37-20 run to end the game. Whitcomb’s seven successful triples tied a Liberty record last reached by Amanda Zahui B in 2019.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Liberty: 3 stars from Sunday’s win at Los Angeles

The New York Liberty commemorated their 25th birthday in familiar fashion through a win over the Los Angeles Sparks.

A quarter-century later, some things never change.

The New York Liberty earned a big win to celebrate their 25th birthday, escaping from Los Angeles with a 76-73 victory over the local Sparks at the Los Angeles Convention Center. Sunday’s game was a rematch of the inaugural tilt in WNBA history held on June 21, 1997, which was also won by the Liberty. The Liberty earned their win despite getting charged for 29 turnovers, the second-worst mark in franchise history.

Through their triumph, New York (7-6) is able to come back home with a split of a four-game road trip after dropping consecutive contests in Las Vegas.

ESM distributes the game balls after a big win…

3rd Star: Kylee Shook 

14 points, 7 rebounds

Shook once again took some big steps forward as a second-year pro in the final stage of this road trip. The Louisville alumna admitted that her open looks from deep weren’t going down, so she created her own chances through cuts into the interior. She shot 5-of-7 from the field on Sunday and has reached double figures in three of her last four contests.

“The team learned that we can push through whatever we put our minds to, as long as we stay focused and give it our all,” Shook said of what the team learned on this road trip. “My shots haven’t been falling lately, and I haven’t really had time to practice it, but I just want to make a greater impact than just standing there, whether it’s getting a teammate open, getting a cut, pulling in defense, I can do so much.”

2nd Star: Sami Whitcomb 

17 points, 9 rebounds

The Liberty made the most of second chances, outscoring the Sparks 19-0 off offensive boards. Overall, New York outrebounded Los Angeles (5-7) by a 38-27 margin, with Whitcomb leading the way with a career-best nine. Only one was of the offensive variety, but it was a big one. Whitcomb hauled in a Bec Allen misfire with under three minutes to go in the final frame, then drove to the basket where she met a Karlie Samuelson foul. Two free throws allowed the Liberty to regain the lead.

“This is a massive win today,” Whitcomb noted. “This was really a character-revealing game for us. We knew it was going to be a battle of wills, we knew LA was going to be tough, that they were going to fight and they were going to make it really difficult for us…At the end of a really tough road trip, I’m really proud of this group because we stand together.”

1st Star: Rebecca Allen

19 points, 6 rebounds, 3 blocks, 3 steals, 3 assists

If it was a category on Sunday’s statsheet, Bec Allen probably did it.

The Australian native began the trip by learning she’d officially be representing a Land Down Under this August in Tokyo and ended it by being a woman of many talents in America. Allen helped the Liberty build an early lead through a season-high in scoring before capping things off with her signature defensive flair. Kristi Toliver’s would-be go-ahead triple was swatted away by Allen, who would then sink a pair of free throws to create the eventual final margin. Granted one last chance to avenge Lisa Leslie’s 1997 group, Los Angeles was again thwarted by Allen.

In another case of serendipitous bookending, the similarly named Rebecca Lobo led the Liberty in scoring on that fateful date in the mid-90s. Allen also helped the Liberty secure the first victory on this road trip, earning a steal on the final possession of a three-point win in Phoenix.

“I was really grateful that I have my length in that moment,” Allen said of Sunday’s final stands. Head coach Walt Hopkins referred to her as “a special player on both ends”. After Sunday’s display, the idea of Allen, a New York bench staple since 2016 that has filled in for the injured Sabrina Ionescu, etching her name onto Sixth Woman of the Year shortlist seems more realistic than ever.

Geoff Magliocchett is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Liberty: Three stars from Sunday’s win at Phoenix

The New York Liberty earned a huge win sans Sabrina Ionescu, topping the Phoenix Mercury in a gutsy road performance.

The New York Liberty earned a gutsy win without the services of Sabrina Ionescu on Sunday night.

Betnijah Laney took over in a performance that left her three rebounds away from a triple-double, while Jazmine Jones came through big in the fourth quarter to steal an 85-83 win over the Phoenix Mercury at Phoenix Suns Arena. The Liberty (6-4) ended a three-game losing streak and overcame a combined 50-point effort from Brittney Griner (27) and Skylar Diggins-Smith. New York jumped out to a 17-point lead despite losing Ionescu to an ankle injury, though head coach Walt Hopkins claimed the top pick of the 2020 draft “just needed a rest”.

ESM awards the game balls from Sunday’s big win…

3rd Star: Kylee Shook

10 points, 5 rebounds

Shook’s trial by fire in the defensive paint, as she was tasked with posting up on Griner. She was praised for making things difficult for the fearsome interior threat and Shook also started to capitalize on her open three-point looks. A pair of early triples allowed her to come one point short of her infantile career-best.

“There’s no question in my mind Kylee can knock down threes at a really high rate,” Hopkins said of Shook. “She’s one of our best shooters, every day in practice. She’s been like that since the preseason, but for her to get a couple to go down and get that confidence was great. I think that the growth for her is continuing to understand how to be physical without fouling, and how to use her strength and her size.”

2nd Star: Jazmine Jones

16 points, 7 rebounds

Sunday was deja vu all over again for Jones, who previously rose to the occasion for an Ionescu-less Liberty in the Bradenton bubble last season. Having earned extra minutes, Jones overcame a first half where she struggled to cash in on open looks (shooting 1-of-7 from the field) to come up huge in the final frame, tallying all but two of her points in the last ten minutes, hitting five of her six attempts. The biggest bucket came in the game’s penultimate minute, when a triple gave the Liberty a two-possession lead that made things that more difficult for the Mercury on their final possessions.

“Jaz really put us on her back in the fourth quarter,” Hopkins said of Jones. “She kept the offense going, played some great defense. The spark that she is is really remarkable.”

1st Star: Betnijah Laney

23 points, 10 assists, 7 rebounds

After a one-game pause, Laney’s 20-point endeavors carried on in the desert on Sunday. With the Liberty citing their starts as a major area of concern, Laney made sure that wasn’t an issue, earning 17 points in the first half to help New York build its lead. While the Mercury mostly held her in check in the latter frames, Laney came up with some clutch baskets in the dying stages, including the de facto game-winning jumper with 34 seconds to go.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Liberty: 3 stars from Tuesday’s win vs. Minnesota

Sabrina Ionescu made WNBA history in just her sixth game, as the New York Liberty won their third straight to start the season.

Behind WNBA history from Sabrina Ionescu, the New York Liberty won their third straight game to open the season. The top pick in the 2020 WNBA Draft earned the first triple-double in team history (10th in league history) en route to an 86-75 win over the Minnesota Lynx. New York (3-0) has won their first three games of the season for the first time since 2007.

ESM has three stars from Tuesday’s win…

3rd Star: Betnijah Laney

20 points, 5 assists

Poor Laney had perhaps the quietest 20-point game in team history, but it says something that Tuesday’s output was her lowest-scoring effort of the season. She’s also making the most of her chances, sinking 8-of-12 opportunities. A corner triple from Laney made it 50-47 in the third quarter, giving New York a lead they would never relinquish after trailing at halftime.

2nd Star: Sami Whitcomb

13 points, 8 rebounds

In the lead-up to the Minnesota game, head coach Walt Hopkins referred to her as an “unsung hero” in the Liberty lineup. The two-time champion was anything but unsung on Tuesday, hauling in a career-best eight rebounds and helped man the interior when it looked like Sylvia Fowles was about to take over. Fowles scored 16 points in the first half, but was held to only 10 in the second, part of that tally coming when the outcome was decided. It was in part thanks to the rebounding efforts of Whitcomb, who also sank some clutch triples to permanently give the Liberty the lead.

1st Star: Sabrina Ionescu

26 points, 12 assists, 10 rebounds

A kid from Brooklyn who needs no supersoldier serum, Ionescu’s first two outings on Atlantic Avenue have been downright historic. Whether it was through clutch deep shots (one first-half three was taken from the 25th anniversary logo near midcourt) or setting up her teammates down below (namely Kylee Shook), Ionescu made sure the Liberty suffered no hangover from their opening two wins over Indiana. Everyone knew the kind of impact Ionescu could potentially make on both a New York and national landscape, but even the most unapologetic fan of the Oregon Duck couldn’t have seen this coming.

The Liberty return to action on Friday night on the road against the Washington Mystics (7 p.m. ET, YES).

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags