Barclays Center crowd cheering on the NY Liberty
June 18, 2023; New York, NY, USA; The New York Liberty host the Phoenix's Mercury. Photo Credit: Sophia Scheller - The Local W

Liberty Overwhelmed by Sun’s Defense, Drop Game 1 of Semifinals

In their first WNBA playoffs semifinals appearance since 2015, the New York Liberty found the Connecticut Sun’s hounding defense to be too much, resulting in a 78-63 loss at Barclays Center in Game 1 on Sunday afternoon.

After the Sun lost all four regular season meetings against the Liberty by an average of 15 points, Connecticut came out aggressively to start the game and got out to a 25-21 lead to end the first quarter, after building a lead as large as nine.

Sun guard Rebecca Allen had eight points while Jonquel Jones had eight points and some strong rebounds for the Liberty. The Sun’s aggressive defense led to five first-quarter turnovers for the Liberty. 

The Liberty took a 40-37 lead into halftime, their largest lead of the first half. Both Breanna Stewart and Betnijah Laney, who got off to hot starts in Game 2 against the Washington Mystics in the first round, struggled a bit in the first half, combining for 4-of-14 shooting, yet Stewart contributed two blocks. Sabrina Ionescu went 3-of-4 from three for nine points and Jones had 10 points on 4-of-4 shooting. 

The Liberty were also able to limit big first halves from Alyssa Thomas and Dewanna Bonner for the Sun as they combined to shoot just 4-of-17. 

The Sun Take Over In the Second Half

In the third, the Sun got off to another hot start with a 16-2 run to bring their lead to eleven, led by Natasha Hiedeman with two threes, six points from Tiffany Hayes and some early Liberty turnovers. 

The Liberty responded with a run of their own after a spark from their bench, including shots from Marine Johannès and Kayla Thornton to get within five.

After being traded to the Sun from New York this past offseason, Allen continued to make big shots, with two threes in the third to bring Connecticut’s lead to 65-55 to go into the fourth. Allen, who averaged just nine points in the first round against the Lynx, had 18 points in the game. 

“It’s my first semifinals and I’m playing my old team… two words I said I wanted were to be assertive and confident and I feel like I did that,” Allen said. 

Bonner Steps Up

After only scoring five points in the first half, Bonner got off to a hot start in the fourth with five quick points to extend the Sun lead to 15. While the Liberty tried to make some runs, the Sun did not let up, giving them their first victory against New York this season. Bonner finished the game with 20 points, and Thomas went for eight points, seven rebounds and 10 assists. 

“We locked in, watched video and never relaxed,” Bonner said after the win.

What Went Wrong for the Liberty

The Sun’s defense, often double- and triple-teaming, made it difficult for the Liberty to get easy looks and forced 14 turnovers. New York had some trouble navigating Connecticut’s physicality, and shots and drives it typically looks for were taken away.

Uncharacteristically, New York was also outrebounded 35-30 and outscored 34-22 in points in the paint, even though New York had the size advantage. Jones recorded her fifteenth double-double of the season with 14 points and 12 rebounds, yet this was the first time the Liberty lost this season when she reached that milestone.

“It’s going to take getting those rebounds, those are the one percent things that we really need to get and clean up to change the flow of the game,” Jones said. 

Liberty Stars Had Quiet Games

Stewart had a better second half and finished the game with 19 points, but was 0-of-8 from three, while Laney struggled with just three points. Ionescu had a quiet second half as New York scored just eight total points in the fourth quarter. This was New York’s lowest point total of the season. 

Liberty coach Sandy Brondello said her team looked flat at times, even in front of their home crowd.

“I didn’t think we had the right energy at all,” Brondello said after the game. “Maybe a little fatigue, maybe I worked them too much, but we’ve got to freshen up mentally and physically and just be ready.”

The Liberty will look to bounce back and even the series in Game 2 at Barclays this Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET, also streamed on ESPN.

“We have the ability to control our own destiny so we are not going to put the ball in their court and just let them knock us out of the playoffs,” Jones said. “We are professionals and we’ve worked all season to get to this point.”