The New York Liberty entered the playoffs with four games under .500 and was at a disadvantage against the defending champion Chicago Sky. However, anything can happen in the playoffs, especially in a short, best-of-three series. Something did happen Wednesday night, as the Liberty stunned the skies with a 98-91 comeback late in the fourth quarter and a 1-0 lead.
Sky leads 91-85 with 3:31 left after Courtney Vandersloot scores, and the veteran looks set for Game 1 of their title defense Back off the game and survive the panic. Instead, the Liberty kept them scoreless for the remainder of the game and ended the game 13-0, which kept Wintrust Arena silent.
Sabrina Ionescu led with 22 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists, while Natasha Howard had 22 points and 7 rebounds. Betnijah Laney had 17 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists while the Liberty as a team shot 11 of 25 from 3-point range.
Candace Parker leads the game with 17 points, 10 rebounds and five assists in the win over the Sky. Kahleah Copper had 21 points and eight rebounds, and Courtney Vandersloot had 13 points and 10 assists.
Game 2 is scheduled for Saturday afternoon in Chicago, and it will now be a must-win for the Sky.
Here are some key takeaways from the game:
Liberty ends the game 13-0
3rd Courtney Vandersloot cut in and converted her patented flip layup to extend the Sky lead to six with 31 points left in the fourth quarter. It was a classic late game for the veteran point guard, and it seemed like this would be the beginning of the end for the Liberty. We see this type of game a lot in the playoffs. The underdog had a near-perfect performance, but ran out of energy in the game.
However, just 62 seconds later, Liberty was ahead. The reversal happened in a split second:
- Natasha Howard hits a layup on a brilliant pass from Marlene Johannes to put the score The gap narrows to four points
- Sabrina Inescu buries after Azura Stevens opens layup on short arm 3-pointer to tie the game
- Vandersloot hits a 3-pointer, Betnijah Laney finds Howard for an easy layup on the other end, putting the free agent in front
Even so, you still think the Sky will wake up and figure out a way to win because they’ve done it so many times this season . It never happened. They had opportunities, like possession, they had two offensive rebounds and missed three shots with just over two minutes left. Or Emma Messman’s open 3-pointer with 1:47 left to tie the game.
As bad as the sky is, so is freedom. They didn’t just take the lead; they pulled away and won easily. In their 13-0 run, they’re 5-for-5 from the field and 2-for-2 from the free throw line. They played a perfect game of basketball and did it on the road against the defending champions.
Liberty carves up the Sky offensive defense
Liberty turnovers are a big problem this season as they end the season with 19.3 turnovers ninth percentile in the league. In other words, they flip the ball over once in every five possessions. So it’s no surprise that on their first attempt at the pick-and-roll, the Sky sent a trap to see how they would handle the pressure.
On that possession, Betnijah Laney calmly crossed and found Stefanie Dolson for an open 3-pointer.
Such games become a trend during the game. The sky is trapped, hedging high and trying to put as much pressure on the free ball handler as possible. It didn’t work. Laney, Sabrina Ionescu and Marine Johannes carve up the Sky’s defensive plan with clever pass after pass.
The trio had at least five assists, and as a team, the Liberty recorded 28 assists and just eight turnovers — the fewest of their entire season. Moving the ball resulted in open shots, which resulted in 49.3 percent of the free agents and 44 percent of 3-pointers.
This is another perfect example of the start of the third quarter. The Sky circled Inescu out of the pick-and-roll, and she calmly threw the ball to an open mid-range jumper.
For all Liberty’s success in the easy game, a team with Johannes has to break the spectacle at times. Late in the fourth quarter, the Frenchwoman started the team’s 13-0 win with one of the best passes you’ve ever seen. She slid past Natasha Howard’s screen and ran out of the sky’s trap to pass the ball back over her head to Howard.
Going into Game 2, it will be interesting to see if the Sky continue to play such aggressive defense or go with a more traditional scheme. On the one hand, the Liberty has been inconsistent this season, prone to 20 turnovers in a similar situation. At the same time, the Liberty is one of the best shooting teams in the league, and if they can handle the pressure well, they’ll get open play. That’s bad news for their opponents, as they showed in their first game.
Marlene Johannes may be unfamiliar, he hadn’t played before coming over from France halfway through the season Been in the WNBA since 2019. But while she may not be a household name right now, that will change if the Liberty can make the playoffs.
She is one of the most unique, fun and creative players in basketball, and she is truly a genius. Her audacity and skill were on display all night as she finished with the loudest eight points and seven assists you’ve ever seen. The aforementioned Howard overhead pass was the best game of the night, but it was far from the only incredible moment.
Late in the first half, she picked up an exit pass and pulled up a deep 3-pointer on a one-on-one fast break. She drained it and added a foul. It’s an ill-advised take, but a willingness to accept it is what makes Johannes so interesting.
There’s also a pass that doesn’t get as much attention as a dime overhead, but is almost as ridiculous. Off the screen, she splits defenders with an absurd rebound pass.
The Liberty is now guaranteed to play at least three games this postseason, and we should bring more magic to Johannes.