Professional Basketball

Liberty Run Their Way to Game 2 Victory, Series Tied 1-1


New York Liberty guard Sabrina Ionescu shoots a three-pointer as teammate Breanna Stewart runs past during Tuesday’s WNBA Semifinal Game 2 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine

The Connecticut Sun and New York Liberty exchanged several runs during Tuesday night’s WNBA Semifinal Game 2 in front of a sellout crowd of 10,009 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, but when all was said and done, the Liberty outlasted the Sun 84-77 and tied the best-of-five series 1-1.

The first quarter started off as the Jones-Hayes show, as Liberty forward Jonquel Jones and Sun guard Tiffany Hayes kept exchanging baskets. Seven of the first nine baskets were scored by either Jones or Hayes. The quarter ended with Connecticut holding onto a 22-16 lead, which ended on an 11-0 Sun run. Hayes scored 12 points in the quarter for the Sun while Jones led the Liberty with nine points during that time.

The Sun had the confidence and the momentum heading into the second quarter and didn’t disappoint with their expectations. They opened the frame on an 8-2 run with a layup from Hayes, two shots from forward DeWanna Bonner and a layup from center Olivia Nelson-Ododa. The only answer that New York had was a put back layup by center Stefanie Dolson. Connecticut led 30-18 with 7:10 left in the half.

New York wasn’t going to roll over and let the Sun sweep over them. Forward Betnijah Laney hit a three-pointer, forward Breanna Stewart and guard Sabrina Ionescu each converted two free throws and the Liberty was on a 7-0 run of their own. The score was 30-25 when Ionescu hit her free throws at the 5:46 mark.

Sun guard Rebecca Allen, who has been known for being both an offensive and defensive threat on the court during the playoffs, found herself sitting on the bench for the rest of the half when she fouled Ionescu with 3:50 left in the half. It was Allen’s third foul of the game. The teams traded baskets and fouls for the remainder of the half. Connecticut maintained a 42-38 lead at the break.

Liberty guard Courtney Vandersloot scored on a layup to begin the third quarter, and then Laney hit a three-pointer to give New York their first lead since late in the first quarter. That was promptly answered by a three-pointer from Hayes, and the Sun went back up 45-43. Then Allen fouled Ionescu again, her fourth personal foul, and the two Liberty free throws tied the game 45-45 with 8:10 left in the third. Allen was replaced by Nelson-Ododa a minute later.

The two free throws from Ionescu, Allen being on the bench, and the Liberty switching from man coverage to zone defense, sparked a New York rally. Bonner, Stewart, Ionescu and Laney all scored as the Liberty went on an 11-0 run. They led 56-47 with 4:50 left in the quarter.

Connecticut Sun forward DeWanna Bonner launches a jump shot during Tuesday’s WNBA Semifinal Game 2 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine

Sun guard Tyasha Harris and Vandersloot exchanged three-pointers, then Bonner and Alyssa Thomas went on a run of their own. Connecticut closed out the quarter on a 7-0 run. New York held a 59-57 lead going into the final frame.

The beginning of the fourth quarter was almost a repeat of the start of the third as Vandersloot and Hayes exchanged three-point baskets. Then Allen fouled Ionescu yet again, picking up her fifth foul, sending Allen back to the bench. The free throws by Ionescu gave the Liberty the 64-60 lead with 8:40 left in regulation.

Like the previous quarter, the Ionescu free throws sparked a Liberty run. This time it was a 10-2 run as Laney scored on a fast break transition layup and was fouled for the “and one,” plus Vandersloot and Stewart each shot treys. It was 72-62 in favor of New York with 7:07 remaining on the clock.

Now Connecticut was fighting tough defense and the clock, while Allen was still on the bench. The closest they would come to catching up would be five points when Bonner scored a three-pointer and was fouled by Laney. After the free throw, New York was up 75-70, but the Sun would come no closer. Vandersloot, Laney and Ionescu closed it out. New York won 84-77 and tied the series 1-1.

The Liberty went 29-for-65 from the field (44.6 percent); 10-for-26 from three-point range (38.5 percent) and went a perfect 16-for-16 from the line. They committed 14 turnovers that led to 11 Sun points.

“We’re just pushing each other. You could see a very connected team today,” said Liberty head coach Sandy Brondello. “The zone was effective for us tonight but we didn’t want to lose. We weren’t happy with our last game. This is what professionals do. They prepare in the best way and come out and fight.”

Connecticut went 27-for-68 from the field (39.7 percent); 9-for-23 from beyond the arc (39.1 percent); and 14-for-18 from the charity stripe (77.8 percent). They turned the ball over 10 times which led to 17 Liberty points.

Connecticut Sun guard Tiffany Hayes drives past New York Liberty forward Jonquel Jones during Tuesday’s WNBA Semifinal Game 2 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Hayes led all scorers with 30 points. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine

“We certainly expected them to come out and be aggressive from the beginning,” said Connecticut head coach Stephanie White. “[It was] a tough one, but we have certainly expected a long series from the beginning, so we get to go home in time for us to bounce back. We came here and got a split. Now we get an opportunity to go home.”

New York held a 32-24 edge over the Sun in points-in-the-paint and 16-5 lead in fast break points. Connecticut held a narrow 9-7 lead in second chance points.

New York was led by Sabrina Ionescu’s 21 points; Betnijah Laney added 20 and Courtney Vandersloot pitched in for 19. Jonquel Jones led the Liberty with 13 rebounds, while Breanna Stewart hauled in 11 boards. Ionescu and Stewart led New York with five assists each.

“We just played within ourselves. We knew it was going to be a battle for forty minutes and we just had to continue to weather the storm,” said Ionescu. “Everyone made the plays that helped us win the game.”

Tiffany Hayes led all scorers with 30 points, and DeWanna Bonner chimed in with 19 points for the Sun. Alyssa Thomas led Connecticut with eight rebounds and nine assists in those categories.

“I just come out every night and do my best for my team, and it was the same tonight,” said Hayes. “It’s the same every night. I just try to go out and do my best. Tonight I was just feeling it.”
Bonner moved into first all-time in three-point field goals made in franchise history (46) and sixth-all time in WNBA postseason history (90). She also moved into sixth all-time in games played in franchise postseason history with 28.

With the series tied at one game a piece, the series now moved to Connecticut for Game 3 slated for Friday night at 7:30 p.m. ET/6:30 p.m. CT at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn.

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