Liberty’s Second-Half Adjustments Lead to Game 2 Win Over Sun
With some clutch second-half shooting and zone defense, the New York Liberty evened their WNBA playoff semifinal series against the Connecticut Sun in an 84-77 win on Tuesday night at Barclays Center.
“We knew we had to win this game,” Liberty coach Sandy Brondello said. “Win on our home court. You could see a very connected team today.”
On Tuesday, Breanna Stewart was named the 2023 WNBA Most Valuable Player. Stewart, who won her first MVP in 2018 with the Seattle Storm, was recognized and presented with her second MVP trophy prior to the game.
Stewart is the first Liberty player in franchise history to receive the award in one of the closest and most contested MVP races in WNBA history. The Sun’s Alyssa Thomas finished second in the MVP race, just seven points behind Stewart. A’ja Wilson from the Las Vegas Aces came in third.
A Game of Runs In the First Half
The Liberty jumped out to an early 5-0 lead in the first, but the Sun went on a 13-2 run to close out the quarter to take a 22-16 lead. Tiffany Hayes, who scored 12 points in Game 1 for the Sun, had 12 points in the first quarter.
The Sun jumped out to a 12-point lead in the second quarter, but the Liberty were able to climb back after Sabrina Ionescu and Betnijah Laney worked to close the halftime gap to 40-36. Hayes had 17 points at halftime for the Sun, and Jonquel Jones and Ionescu both had 11 for the Liberty. New York continued to struggle from three, shooting just 3-of-14, but the team was able to limit turnovers compared to Game 1.
Stewart struggled in the first half, going 0-of-5 from the field with just four points, but contributed three blocks.
A New Defensive Scheme
In the second half, the Liberty switched to a zone defense after playing man-to-man in the first and it paid off, limiting the Sun to just 35 points. The zone defense prevented the Sun from getting into the paint with ease, which they had done for much of the first half.
“We haven’t played zone in a while, to be honest,” Ionescu said. “For all five that came in to be locked in, on a string, to make things difficult for them, it speaks a lot to how prepared we were.”
Stewart had another two blocks, including a big one on the Sun’s Olivia Nelson-Ododa in the third quarter that sent the Barclays Center crowd into a frenzy. After being named to the All-Defensive First Team, Stewart’s five blocks set a new Liberty franchise playoff record, while the team finished with nine blocks as a whole.
Betnijah Laney Has a Bounce-Back Game
The Liberty jumped out to a nine-point lead midway into the third quarter as Stewart recorded her first field goal of the night. Betnijah Laney, who struggled in Game 1, added two big threes. Some costly Liberty turnovers in the final minutes led to a 7-0 run by Connecticut, narrowing New York’s lead to 59-57.
In the fourth, shots by Laney and Courtney Vandersloot and a transition three from Stewart, her first of the series, helped the Liberty extend their lead to 10. While the Sun did not go away and eventually cut the deficit to five, key shots by Laney down the stretch helped the Liberty finish off the win. Laney scored 15 of her 20 points in the second half, including five three-pointers.
After shooting 1-of-9 in Game 1, Laney told ESPN’s Holly Rowe that she was “just trying to have a different mindset, just letting that game go and coming out knowing what I am capable of and sticking to it.”
For the Sun, Hayes had a career night, tying her playoff high with 30 points. Bonner finished with 19 and Thomas finished with 10 points, eight rebounds and nine assists. Both Ty Harris and Rebecca Allen struggled with foul trouble during the game, which limited their time spent on the court.
Starters Stepped Up
Each of the Liberty starters scored in double digits, as Vandersloot had 19 points and Ionescu bounced back from a slow Game 1 with 21 points and found success driving in the paint.
“We just played within ourselves,” Ionescu said. “We knew it’d be a battle for 40 minutes and knew we had to weather the storm.”
Even while Stewart struggled offensively, finishing the game with 11 points, she credited the rest of her team for stepping up and helping her through an emotional day. The entire Liberty team wore MVP Stewart shirts in pregame warmups.
“I relied on my teammates, and that’s really it,” Stewart said. “They continued to have my back… until I could find my way a little bit.”
Game 2 Adjustments
The Liberty also had a better rebounding night compared to Game 1, outrebounding the Sun 37-31. New York also recorded 16 fastbreak points compared to five for the Sun, which allowed the team to speed up its play and get some easy buckets in transition. The Liberty also had a better game in the paint with 32 points, including many drives from their guards who struggled in Game 1.
This seemed like a must-win game for the Liberty after dropping Game 1 at home, and it showed through their energy and urgency.
With both teams notching a win in Brooklyn, the series will head to Uncasville, Conn. at Mohegan Sun Arena, the Sun’s home base. Game 3 will be on Friday at 7:30 p.m., also streamed on ESPN2.