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 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