Courtesy Image of Riley Lorenz

Liberty chemistry continues to build as they survive OT against Mystics

On Sunday afternoon, the New York Liberty (9-3) played in a thriller of a game with the Washington Mystics (8-5) as they defeated them in overtime, 89-88. These two evenly matched teams played to the wire, however there were major takeaways from this game that may translate later on in the season. Throughout the game, the Mystics successfully neutralized and contained 2023 All-Star team captain Breanna Stewart to just 18 points, only converting four of her 17 shots. The majority of her points came from the free throw line, which forced her other teammates to step up.

Although Stewart didn’t play her greatest, she stepped up when the team needed it most similar to the other veterans on this roster. Veteran guards Courtney Vandersloot (11 points) and Betnijah Laney (17 points) helped contribute in big ways when the team needed it most down the stretch. However, the team is displaying their trust in one another and allows each player to contribute accordingly. Especially, superstar Sabrina Ionescu, who stepped up to record 31 points and six assists in a time when the leading scorer was struggling. 

“That’s a good locker room win, we did enough to win the game,” Vandersloot explained in the post-game press conference. “We don’t like the way we started, we didn’t play our best game but we dug deep and made plays when they were important.”

Slow Start for the New York Liberty

In the first quarter, the Liberty struggled against the Mystics' energy and tenacity on the ball. They fell to a 13-point deficit and were forced to take two early timeouts within the opening quarter. Initially, the Liberty made uncharacteristic turnovers and weren’t executing to their capabilities, forcing a very tough task to mount a comeback against a very talented Mystics team. 

“I think I said, wake the something up,” Liberty head coach Sandy Brondello stated. “It’s like come one, we’re not executing anything and they’re playing harder than us. However, credit to these guys, they’re great and I don’t have to tell them that.”

“It wasn’t a pretty game, we didn’t play great, and we didn’t execute to the best of our ability, however, we found a way to win,” Brondello continued. “I think that shows a lot of character of this team being able to maintain our pose. This game could have gone either way, and we understand that.”

The Liberty attempted to slow the game down by being aggressive and getting to the free-throw line. The Mystics had momentum and didn’t look to be slowing down, however the free throw shooting by Ionescu and Stewart helped slow the game down and naturally help them find their rhythm. Laney had it going early and help keep the Liberty in the game with several corner threes and big-time shots.

During the second quarter, the Liberty began to pick up their execution, pressure on the defense and began knocking down shots to close the deficit. Ionescu began to heat up and this later led into the second half where her momentum didn’t appear to slow down.

Ultimately, they trailed heading into halftime, 45-39, after falling to a 13-point deficit. 

Impressive Comeback by the New York Liberty

In the second half, the Liberty appeared to turn into the team many have recognized them to be. Their defense played much better, however at times giving up crucial scores. Overall, the offense began to flow better, and the ball movement became more effective. Naturally, opening up opportunities for their key players to make plays.

“That entire second half we felt in control,” Ionescu stated. “I think it says a lot about the chemistry that we’re building when times get tough and we hit adversity being able to stay together and continue to communicate and weather the storm.”

During the third quarter, the Liberty trailed throughout the entire quarter, however the team remained to never give up and continued to fight. Throughout the midst of fighting back, Vandersloot and Stewart also began to slightly find their footing and rhythm on the court. This funneled over into the fourth quarter.

In order to sustain the comeback in the fourth, it took a little bit of everyone to contribute. This included newly acquired Kayla Thornton from the Dallas Wings making some key stops defensively. The biggest play arguably came from Vandersloot, who with less than three seconds on the clock went coast-to-coast for the layup to send the game into overtime.

Liberty Survives the Mystics in Overtime

During overtime, the momentum the Liberty built in the second half seemed to be unstoppable. Naturally, they fed off coming back from the double-digit deficit and Ionescu helped bring them home. Although scoring the ball is important, the biggest takeaway from overtime was the outstanding communication and defense. The Liberty began to create numerous turnovers and create extra possessions in a very tightly fought contest.

Overall, the status of the team’s depth, resiliency, and will to win cannot be questioned after this game. The Liberty are extremely fortunate to have the level of talent they have and the experience to help them in moments like this. These are valuable lessons that will come up later in the season and the Liberty have proven to be able to withstand the storm and come out the other side victorious.