Liberty Complete Comeback to Defeat Mystics in Overtime Classic

After trailing by as many as 17 points, the Liberty thrilled the home crowd with an 89-88 overtime victory over the Mystics on Sunday. That one-point lead was the Liberty’s largest all game, and it was all they needed to clinch their ninth win of the season.

As the WNBA’s leading assist team (24.0 per game), New York struggled to create and make shots on the offensive end due to Washington’s length and physicality. The Mystics’ disruptive defense forced 19 turnovers by the Liberty, which turned into 16 points for Washington.

The Liberty started cold and remained scoreless four minutes into the game, quickly trailing Washington 13-0. During one timeout, Sandy Brondello implored her team to wake up and start competing. On the other end, New York overreacted to the opponent’s perimeter shooting, giving up too much space within the three-point line.

Mystics guards Natasha Cloud and Ariel Atkins got to their sweet spots and made mid-range shots and layups after making simple pump fake shots from behind the arc. On the afternoon, the backcourt duo dropped a total of 47 points on 15-of-28 shooting, 10 rebounds and 11 assists.

“It’s like, come on, what are we doing? We’re not executing anything. We’re not playing. They’re up there competing harder than us,” Brondello said of the team’s slow beginning to the game.

The Big Apple’s biggest stars, however, showed up and saved the day for the Liberty. That began with Sabrina Ionescu, who went off for 31 points, including seven three-pointers, three rebounds, six assists and three steals in 38 minutes. Ionescu’s clutch three-point shooting kept the Liberty alive throughout regulation and overtime.

“I know what I’m capable of doing. I know the shots that I’m capable of making and just continuing to read the defense and take the shots that are open,” Ionescu said about her confidence. “I think that’s the beauty of this team, just understanding all the weapons that we have and being able to play off one another. And obviously the gravity of having Stewie, Sloot and I on the floor, and pick and roll action and trial action, it’s just tough to guard. You kind of just have to pick your poison.”

The Liberty’s comeback was led by significant runs offensively, but those would not have led the team to a win without the adjustments made on the other end. After the first quarter, New York added more pressure to the Mystics’ ball movement, forcing tough shots and turnovers. The team was also more focused on protecting the glass, where it out-rebounded Washington 45-29, including a season-high 14 offensive rebounds.

“We got stops defensively, and that helps us get easy baskets in transition, continuing to move the ball from side to side, and creating opportunities for one another, when we get in the paint, and we can kick,” Ionescu said.

With better performances on both ends of the floor, New York slowly narrowed the deficit. After Breanna Stewart, who could not find a rhythm offensively earlier, hit two consecutive tough mid-range shots over the Mystics’ Elena Delle Donne, New York held a one-point lead for the first time with six minutes left in the fourth quarter.

Washington responded quickly with an 11-2 run to regain the lead. However, the turning point came after the W’s best free-throw shooting team (now the second-best at 83.9%) missed three of their four free throws at the end of regulation. That is when Courtney Vandersloot caught the opportunity and made a critical layup to send the game to overtime.

New York’s big three contributed all 11 points in the overtime five-minute span for the team to secure the victory, including Stewart’s gaming-winning and-one layup.

“Stewie is one of the best there is,” Brondello said of Stewart’s leadership. “She knows she’s having a tough one. It doesn’t matter. She can impact us in so many different ways. And that shows a lot about how classy she is. She’s all about the team. It’s all about winning.”

From Ionescu’s constant strikes from behind the arc, Vandersloot’s clutch free throw and layup, and Stewart’s gaming-winning threepoint play, this New York team put out a strong statement as a motivated championship contender. After overcoming a 17-point deficit, the team’s growing resilience and chemistry were on full display.

“We’re playing for one another, and we are able to dig ourselves out of that hole. And that entire second half, we really felt in control,” Ionescu said. “And so I think it says a lot about the chemistry that we’re building when times get tough, when we hit adversity, being able to stay together, continuing to communicate and kind of weather the storm.”

Up next, the Liberty will travel to take on the Connecticut Sun on Tuesday night. It is the first stop of a three-game road trip.