Professional Basketball

Liberty edge Mystics in OT to advance to Semifinals


New York Liberty forward Breanna Stewart shoots over the outstretched arms of Washington Mystics center Myisha Hines-Allen during Tuesday’s Round 1 Game 2 playoff game at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine

It was a battle of the wills to determine who would get out of Barclays Center in Brooklyn Tuesday night as the New York Liberty and Washington Mystics faced off in front of a sellout crowd of 9,256 for Game 2 of the WNBA Playoffs First Round. The Mystics were fighting for a chance to force a decisive Game 3 in Washington while the Liberty were trying to close it out and advance to the Semifinals. It took overtime before New York could close it out with a 90-85 win.

The Mystics scored first with a running layup by center Myisha Hines-Allen, which was quickly answered by a nine-foot floater by Liberty forward Breanna Stewart. The Mystics then went on a quick 6-0 run with scores by guards Natasha Cloud and Aerial Atkins plus a shot by forward Elena Delle Donne, but the Liberty answered that with an 8-0 run of their own thanks to Stewart, forward Betnijah Laney and guard Sabrina Ionescu. The Liberty led 12-11 after Ionescu’s layup with 4:19 left in the opening quarter.

The tone was set early in the game about who wants the victory more, Mystics guard Natasha Cloud or Liberty forward Breanna Stewart. Those two put on their own clinic for the spectators viewing in arena and at home. Every time one would score, the other would follow. The quarter ended with the Liberty holding onto a 21-18 lead, but both Stewart and Cloud notched 11 points for their respective teams already.

The teams continued to exchange buckets to start the second quarter and were knotted up at 25-25 when Liberty center Jonquel Jones muscled her team to a 6-0 run. A shot by Stewart and back-to-back layups by Jones put the Liberty in front 31-25 with 5:37 left in the half.

Washington didn’t have an immediate answer to the Liberty run, before New York pushed down on the accelerator again. Ionescu connected on two three pointers, Jones made three free-throws and forward Kayla Thornton scored on a put back and a layup, and the Liberty held a commanding 46-35 halftime lead.

Washington Mystics guard Natasha Cloud drives past New York Liberty guard Sabrina Ionescu en route to scoring a layup during Tuesday’s Round 1 Game 2 playoff game at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine

When the game resumed, Cloud upped the intensity for the Mystics. She scored a quick layup to open the quarter and then notched two assists, a Hines-Allen layup and a three-pointer by Atkins. Jones scored a layup and two free throws for New York. Nonetheless, the commanding lead from a few minutes earlier had been brought down to earth. The Liberty led 50-44 with 7:51 left in the quarter.

Suddenly, the Liberty shooting went cold. For the rest of the quarter, it didn’t matter if it was a layup, two-foot put back jumper, or a 25-foot three-point shot, New York couldn’t hit anything. They missed 11 of their final 12 shots in the quarter. Meanwhile, the Mystics capitalized on layups from Cloud and Sykes and a shot from Delle Donne. The Liberty led by only three, 59-56, when the third quarter ended.

Sensing an opportunity to take the lead, forward Brittney Sykes hit a three-pointer to tie the game at 59-59. Then Cloud hit a three-pointer to put Washington out in front 62-59.

The game was tied at 63-63 with 6:30 left in regulation when the Mystics jumped out on a 6-0 run on a jump shot from Delle Donne and two layups from Cloud. However, the Liberty answered with a 9-0 run of their own thanks to the hot hand of Laney. New York led 74-71 with 44.8 seconds left on the clock.

The Mystics weren’t out of it yet. A three-pointer by Sykes tied the score, and then Jones fouled Cloud with 27.3 seconds left. She converted both free throws to give Washington the 76-74 lead.

Cloud picked up her fourth foul with 12.6 seconds remaining putting Ionescu on the line. She missed both free throws, but Jones was able to grab the rebound on the second miss and was fouled by Hines-Allen. Jones made both free throws and the game was tied 76-76 with just seconds to go.

New York Liberty guard Courtney Vandersloot drives past Washington Mystics forward Elena Delle Donne for a layup during Tuesday’s Round 1 Game 2 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine

Miscommunication with a teammate led to Cloud throwing the inbounds pass out-of-bounds for the turnover. When New York threw their inbounds pass, Sykes picked it off but was unable to get the shot off in time sending the game into overtime.

When overtime began, Stewart was fouled by Sykes. She made both free throws giving the Liberty the 78-76 edge. But once again, it was negated by a three-pointer by Cloud, to give the Mystics the 79-78 lead.

A Laney fadeaway shot with 3:56 left on the clock gave the Liberty the lead once again, but this time it was for good. Point guard Courtney Vandersloot, who had been silent most of the night, made back-to-back scores making it 84-79 with 2:29 remaining.

A Delle Donne turnaround jumper and an Atkins put back on a Delle Donne miss made it a one-point game, but a layup by Jones extended that back to three points. It was trimmed back to one point when Ionescu fouled Atkins, who converted both free throws. New York led 86-85 with 38.9 seconds left.

Delle Donne committed the take foul against Stewart with 11.8 seconds on the clock. After Stewart made her free throws, the Liberty lead was three, 88-85.

Atkins took the inbounds pass and shot a three-pointer but missed. Sykes touched the ball before it went out of bounds, giving New York the basketball. Stewart was fouled and made both free throws to secure the 90-85 victory and the chance to play the winner of the Minnesota-Connecticut series in the semifinal round.

This was the first overtime playoff game for both teams, Liberty and Mystics, since they faced each other on Sept. 18, 2015. Washington won that game 86-83 in double overtime.

The Liberty shot 34-for-81 from the field (42 percent); 4-for-23 from three-point range (17.4 percent) and 18-21 from the free throw line (85.7 percent). They gave up 15 turnovers that led to 16 Mystics points.

Washington Mystics forward Brittney Sykes makes one last attempt to get her team in the win column before time expired in overtime as New York Liberty forward Breanna Stewart tries to defend in the final seconds of WNBA playoff Round 1 Game 2 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn on Tuesday night. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine

“It could have gone either way. We know that. Sometimes a little luck has to go your way, but we stayed together and found a way,” said Liberty head coach Sandy Brondello. “We knew Washington was a really hard match up. I didn’t want to face them in the first round, but it was going to prepare us as we progress through the playoffs because they’re a really good team. They really tested us tonight. I think that will give us good preparation. We faced everything now. What more can we face?”

Washington went 32-for-80 from the field (40 percent); 8-for-26 in three-point shooting (30.8 percent); and 13-for-16 from the charity stripe (81.2 percent). They committed 15 turnovers leading to 18 New York points.

“You have to credit New York with their size and their ability to guard different positions and switch some things, which makes it tough,” said Delle Donne. “They’ve got a tough long defense.”

Breanna Stewart led New York with 27 points. Jonquel Jones and Betnijah Laney each added 19 and Sabrina Ionescu chipped in 11 points. Jones led all rebounders with 14 and Courtney Vandersloot dished out a game-high 10 assists.

“It definitely got spicy. The first half, I thought there were some missed calls and no calls. You know both teams want to win,” said Stewart. “We’ve been battle tested. We’ve gone through all the things in the regular season for these moments, especially the fact that we want to win at home. We did not want to go to D.C. It would have been an even harder game. We relied on the crowd to have our back to get it done.”

Natasha Cloud scored a career-high 33 points and led the Mystics with nine assists. Brittney Sykes added 14 points, Aerial Atkins scored 13, Elena Delle Donne pitched in for 11 and Myisha Hines-Allen netted 10. Sykes led the Mystics with 12 rebounds.

“I was going to be a villain. I was going to be a dog tonight. I was going to stay on Sabrina [Ionescu] for as much as I could in the game,” said Cloud. “It was a great environment to play in. This is things that we dream of since the time that we were kids.”

The Liberty now have to wait until the Minnesota-Connecticut Game 3 at Target Center in Minneapolis concludes tomorrow night to know who their next opponent will be. However, their next game will be on Sunday at 1 p.m. ET at Barclays Center in Brooklyn for their first semifinals series since 2015.

NOTE: The Las Vegas Aces will face the Dallas Wings in the other semifinal game. Las Vegas won their Round 1 series 2-0 against the Chicago Sky. Dallas defeated the Atlanta Dream 2-0 in their series.

Recommended for you