Professional Basketball

Liberty fend off Sun, advance to WNBA Finals


New York Liberty forward Breanna Stewart blocks a shot attempt by Connecticut Sun guard DiJonai Carrington during Sunday’s WNBA Semifinal Game 4 at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine

The New York Liberty withstood a late charge to secure an 87-84 victory over the Connecticut Sun in Game 4 of the WNBA Semifinal round in front of an announced crowd of 8,196 at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn., Sunday afternoon. New York won the series 3-1 and will now face the Las Vegas Aces in the WNBA Finals starting next Sunday.

The game started with Liberty center Jonquel Jones getting fouled while attempting a put back shot after a miss by guard Betnijah Laney. Jones made one of her two free throws for the game’s first point, just fifteen seconds into play.

Knowing that their backs were up against the wall with the threat of elimination, the Sun jumped out to an early 5-1 lead with a three-pointer by forward DeWanna Bonner and a put back by forward Alyssa Thomas, following the Jones free throw.

New York came storming back with a jump shot from guard Sabrina Ionescu, a hook shot from forward Breanna Stewart and a three pointer by Laney. New York led 11-10 with 5:42 left in the first quarter.

Connecticut answered with a run of their own as guard Rebecca Allen knocked off a jump shot and a three-pointer, guard DiJonai Carrington scored a basket as did guard Natisha Hiedeman. With that quick burst, the Sun held a 19-14 lead with 3:19 left on the clock. The teams traded baskets for the remaining minutes and the Sun held a 23-19 lead after the first quarter.

The Sun built on their lead in the first part of the second quarter with three-pointers by Bonner and guard Tiffany Hayes, plus a layup from Allen. But 2023 Most Valuable Player, Breanna Stewart, took matters into her own hands. She scored on a jump shot, a three-pointer and then tipped in her own miss in a little more than a minute. Her personal 7-0 run made the score 33-30 with 4:55 left in the half forcing Sun head coach Stephanie White to call a timeout to get her team to regroup.

New York Liberty guard Betnijah Laney attempts a shot while Connecticut Sun guard Tiffany Hayes tries to defend during Sunday’s WNBA Semifinals Game 4 at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine

When the game resumed, the teams traded baskets until the last minute of play. Laney scored on a put back with 1:01 left on the clock to make the score 44-41 in favor of Connecticut. Ionescu made both free throws after being fouled by Allen, and then scored on a fast break layup with 0.7 seconds left. Ionescu then stole the inbounds pass from Hiedeman but was unable to connect on the three-point attempt as time expired. Ionescu’s layup capped a Liberty 6-0 run and New York took a 45-44 lead into the half.

Just as the Liberty ended the half on a 6-0 run, they opened the third quarter on a 7-0 run with a layup from Stewart, free throws from Jones and a three-pointer by Laney. Suddenly New York held a 52-44 lead with 7:10 remaining in the third, which forced another Connecticut timeout.

As both the defenses got tougher for both teams and more shots were missed, Jones decided to step up. She scored on a layup, a three-pointer and turnaround jump shot while helping the Liberty build a 9-2 run to extend the lead to 64-53 with 2:01 left in the third quarter. The Liberty led 66-58 going into the final frame.

Sensing that they could be eliminated if they didn’t pull together, the Sun launched a comeback. Carrington, Hayes and guard Tyasha Harris each scored to begin the fourth quarter with a 6-0 run forcing Liberty head coach Sandy Brondello to call timeout.

Jones was fouled and converted only one of two free throws. Carrington and Jones then exchanged layups before Carrington hit on a big three-point shot, which capped a 16-5 Sun run and tied the score at 69-69 with 5:13 left to go.

The game became strategic. After being fouled by Thomas, Stewart made both free throws to put the Liberty up by two.

Connecticut Sun forward Alyssa Thomas shoots over the outstretched arms of New York Liberty forward Breanna Stewart during Sunday’s WNBA Semifinals Game 4 at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn. Thomas led the Sun with the third postseason triple-double of her career. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine

Then Thomas dished a pass off to Bonner, who connected a three-pointer to give the Sun the one-point lead. The assist gave Thomas the third postseason triple-double of her career.

Jones answered Bonner’s three-pointer with a triple of her own, which was followed by a layup by Thomas. The game was tied again 74-74 with 3:14 left on the clock.

Stewart hit a three-pointer and then converted two free throws after being fouled by Bonner. Just when it looked like the Liberty could put the game out of reach, Bonner hit a three-pointer and New York led 79-78 with 1:21 left to go.

Jones grabbed a rebound and was fouled by Hayes. Connecticut challenged the call but was unsuccessful. Jones converted both free throws.

Ionescu fouled Thomas, but it was not a shooting foul. Jones stole the inbound pass and was fouled by Thomas while attempting the fast break layup. She made both free throws to give the Liberty an 83-78 lead, and added another point after converting one of two free throws after being fouled by Carrington.

Harris hit a three-pointer with 18.3 seconds left to make the score 84-81 and keep the Sun’s hopes alive.

Rebecca Allen fouled Laney away from the ball in a transition take foul. Laney only converted one of two free throws. Harris scored another three-pointer with 7.6 seconds left to make it an 85-84 ballgame. New York called timeout.

Stewart was fouled by Carrington on the inbounds for a transition take foul. Stewart made both free throws to take a three-point lead.

Connecticut had one last chance to tie the game with a three-point shot. Tiffany Hayes heaved up a jump shot in desperation just before the time expired. While the shot didn’t go in, it wouldn’t have made a difference. She was inside the perimeter for a two-point shot. The Liberty won 87-84 and earned the right to go to the WNBA Finals for the first time in 21 years.

New York went 28-for-68 from the field (41.2 percent); 10-for-22 from beyond the arc (45.5 percent); and 21-for-25 from the free throw line (84 percent). They turned the ball over 13 times leading to 14 Connecticut points.

New York Liberty guard Sabrina Ionescu pumps her fist upon learning that the New York Liberty will advance to the 2023 WNBA Finals. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine

“When you bring all these amazing players together, we work a lot on culture. I think you can see we are connected,” said Liberty head coach Sandy Brondello. “Because when you have connection, you have commitment, and these girls are committed to each other and this program. It was great to watch.”

The Sun went 35-for-77 from the field (45.5 percent); 11-for-25 from three-point range (44 percent); and 3-for-8 from the charity stripe (37.5 percent). They gave up 10 turnovers which led to 17 points from the Liberty.

“Congratulations to New York. They earned it. We gave them a battle but we came up short,” said Sun head coach Stephanie White.

New York was led by Breanna Stewart’s 27 points. Jonquel Jones added 25 and Betnijah Laney scored 21. Jones led the Liberty with 15 rebounds, while Courtney Vandersloot and Sabrina Ionescu each had seven assists.

“No matter what, throughout this entire game, if we were the ones who stayed together best and strongest, we were going to win, like we did,” said Stewart.

Alyssa Thomas led the way for Connecticut with a triple double. She led her team in all three statistical categories with 17 points, 15 rebounds and 11 assists. Tiffany Hayes added 15 points, DiJonai Carrington scored 14, DeWanna Bonner pitched in for 12, and Tyasha Harris scored 10 points with six of them coming within the last 20 seconds of the game.

“The last play, we wanted to be able to try to get a quick three off of a pitch back. We had a couple of different options, and I think New York did a good job of containing that and didn’t let us get to it,” said White.

This will be the first WNBA Finals appearance for the Liberty since 2002 when they were swept by the Los Angeles Sparks 2-0. They will face the Las Vegas Aces, who defeated the Chicago Sky in Round 1 and the Dallas Wings in the Semifinals. Game 1 of the WNBA Finals is scheduled for Sunday Oct. 8 at 3 p.m. ET/2 p.m. CT from Michelob ULTRA Arena in Las Vegas.

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