Sabrina Ionescu
Sabrina Ionescu shoots a free throw in the Commissioner's Cup championship on June 25. The Liberty fell to the Lynx 94-89. (Photo by. Brandon Todd/New York Liberty)

Takeaways From NY Liberty’s Commissioner’s Cup Championship Loss

The New York Liberty had the chance to become back-to-back Commissioner’s Cup champions in the fourth annual in-season tournament but ultimately fell short of that goal in a 94-89 loss to the Minnesota Lynx on Tuesday night.

Here are some major takeaways from the game:

A Tale of Two Halfs

In their Commissioner’s Cup matchup against the Lynx, the Liberty got off to a hot start, shooting 57% from three in the first quarter, while dominating the offensive boards. Sabrina Ionescu took over in the first half with 18 points, most of them coming from the rim and from floaters, showcasing her development as a scorer from previous seasons. The Liberty took a 10-point lead in the second quarter, but the Lynx battled back to make it a 3-point game at the half.

The second half and the third quarter especially has been their Achilles heel in many games this season, as New York scored just 10 points in the third quarter, which was marred by turnovers and some slow transition defense. Shots just weren’t falling, as New York made only 15.4% of their shots in the third quarter (2-13) and had seven total turnovers.

A minute into the fourth, the Lynx extended their lead to 10, but Breanna Stewart took over with a 9-0 run by herself to give the Liberty some life. They had some good shot selections in the quarter but some misses on top of another five turnovers proved to be their demise.

The Liberty ended the game with a whopping 21 turnovers, which the Lynx were able to turn into 27 points. Many of these turnovers were the result of trying to force the ball into Jonquel Jones to get her going, but many of them were also just products of the five on the court not being on the same page and anticipating passing lanes. The team typically averages just 14.7 turnovers per game, and with a feisty and cohesive Minnesota defense, the Liberty just did not have that much room for error.

“I think that they executed better than us,” Stewart said. “That’s it. We weren’t able to get anything we wanted. No matter what it was, late shot clock three, something, it’s going to make it difficult for us. 21 turnovers is never going to get it done.”

A New Environment

Some of the Liberty’s struggles could potentially have been attributed to playing in a new environment, after the game was moved to UBS Arena in Elmont, New York, because of the NBA Draft being held at Barclays Center. While it was still a home game for New York, with 7,035 fans in attendance, the game would most likely have been more suitable at Barclays and not on a busy weeknight. Regardless, the fans who did make the trek to Long Island were out in full force, doing the Ellie wave and making their presence known with some deafening defense chants and cheers.

Jonquel Jones struggles

Jones has been the key to the Liberty’s success this season, playing at the highest level in a seafoam jersey, given that she has healed from any lingering injuries last season and better trusts and understands her teammates on the court. This chemistry has been most prominent with Ionescu on pick and rolls, with Ionescu assisting to Jones more times than anyone else on the team combined. Yet in New York’s first matchup against the Lynx, Jones had just four points, going 1-5 from the field with six rebounds.

The Liberty are 17-0 all time when Jones records a double-double, but during the Commissioner’s Cup, the Lynx defense made it difficult for Jones to establish herself and go to what has been working this season — the inside-out and pick and roll work with the Liberty guards, mostly Ionescu, and getting herself open for a three ball, which she has been knocking down 43.6 percent of the time. On Tuesday night, Jones had 12 rebounds but just three points, going 0-3 from the field, taking her second and third shot attempts in the fourth quarter. Jones wasn’t able to make herself a threat on the offensive end like she normally does, with a credit to the Lynx defense.

Jonquel Jones
Jonquel Jones drives to the basket against the Lynx’s Alanna Smith in the Commissioner’s Cup championship game on June 25. The Liberty fell short of capturing their second Cup title, falling to the Lynx 94-89. (Photo by. Brandon Todd/New York Liberty)

“We knew exactly what they were going to do and we just didn’t execute it very well,” Brondello said of Jones. “There was always a crowd if she did catch it. JJ’s been playing great and they really took her out of the game. No open threes, no open gaps.”

Kayla Thornton as an X-Factor

While Stewart and Ionescu had 24 and 23 points respectively, it was Kayla Thornton who made the difference, with 17 points, going 5-9 from three-point range. Since being inserted into the starting lineup in place of Vandersloot, Thornton has had some of her best games in her second season with the Liberty, bringing the energy, scoring and defensive pressure the team needs.

“I think everyone can see that KT has been great for us on both ends of the floor,” Stewart said. “Being a great 3-and-D player and playing well into that role, she’s making it difficult for the opposing guard.”

Return of Vandersloot and Laney-Hamilton

Both Courtney Vandersloot and Betnijah Laney-Hamilton returned to play in the Commissioner’s Cup game after each missing some time. Vandersloot came off the bench in her first game back since losing her mother, and the support and “SLOOOOT” chants for her were deafening. Laney-Hamilton returned to the starting lineup after missing three games with knee soreness and still gave it her all, posting 13 points in almost 34 minutes of game time. The team is still missing Nyara Sabally, who is out with a back injury, but as the team edges closer to the Olympic break, we’ll see if Coach Sandy Brondello decides to bring Sabally back into the fold.

Courtney Vandersloot
Courtney Vandersloot returned to action for the Liberty in the Commissioner’s Cup championship against the Minnesota Lynx on June 25. (Photo by. Brandon Todd/New York Liberty)

No Need to Panic

Even though the Liberty would have loved to hoist their second Commissioner’s Cup trophy and split the $500,000 price, which would have been beneficial especially for the younger players, this loss doesn’t define the team. Liberty fans, there’s no need to panic.

The Commissioner’s Cup game doesn’t count toward the standings, meaning the Liberty still remain atop league standings. They are off till Sunday, when they return to Barclays to face the Dream, giving them adequate rest and practice time to work out some kinks. And remember those Las Vegas Aces? They lost last year’s Cup to the Liberty but went on to win the WNBA championship. A loss in the Commissioner’s Cup doesn’t define a team.

In the postgame press conference, Brondello emphasized this game as a learning opportunity.

“We had some breakdowns, some miscommunications. We’ve come off a pretty grueling schedule. We had some mental fatigue, not to make excuses and we look forward to playing them again.”

The Liberty won’t have to wait too much time to play the Lynx again, as they host them at home on July 2 at 7 p.m.