Professional Basketball

Sun Sink Liberty in Semifinal Game 1


New York Liberty forward Jonquel Jones shoots over the outstretched arms of Connecticut Sun forward DeWanna Bonner in Game 1 of the Semifinal round of the WNBA Playoffs at Barclays Center on Sunday. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine

The Connecticut Sun powered through the third quarter to gain enough separation from the New York Liberty and win the first game of the best-of-five semifinal series by a score of 78-63 in front of a sellout crowd that was 9,442 strong at Barclays Center on Sunday afternoon.

Connecticut pushed a quick 7-2 run out of the gate on a reverse layup by guard Rebecca Allen, a three-pointer by forward DeWanna Bonner and a layup by guard Tiffany Hayes.

New York answered with a three-pointer from guard Courtney Vandersloot, but Allen then hit a three-pointer of her own. On the next possession, Allen picked off Liberty center Jonquel Jones and then connected on a 26-foot running pullup jump shot. Connecticut led 13-5 with 6:44 remaining in the first quarter.

Jones was able to get into a rhythm for the Liberty. She scored three layups and blocked a jump shot by Sun center Alyssa Thomas. However, Connecticut answered each of Jones layups with baskets of their own. The Sun led 19-11 with 4:35 remaining in the quarter.

After two Sun layups by Hayes, Jones scored on a put back layup, guard Sabrina Ionescu hit her second three-pointer of the day. The Sun led 25-21 at the end of the first.

The second quarter opened with steals from Liberty guards Marine Johannes and Vandersloot, but they failed to convert the turnovers into points. Sun guard Tyasha Harris scored on a jump shot with 8:49 on the clock to extend the Sun lead to six.

With the score 35-30 in favor of the Sun, the Liberty went on their run. Ionescu connected on a three-pointer, Jones converted two free throws, guard Betnijah Laney hit one of two free throws and forward Breanna Stewart hit three jump shots. The 10-2 Liberty run ended the half with the home team ahead 40-37.

Connecticut Sun guard Rebecca Allen finished with a postseason career-high 18 points, along with seven rebounds, two steals and two blocks during Sunday’s WNBA Semifinals Game 1 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn on Sunday. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine

Stephanie White’s Connecticut Sun team was not happy with the way the half ended. When they came out of the locker room for the second half of the game, they were locked in on their assignments.

Sun guard Natisha Hiedeman hit a three-pointer to get the scoring going and tied the score 40-40. Hayes scored on back-to-back layups, Stewart scored on a layup, Hiedeman hit another three-pointer, Bonner and Hayes each scored. When the dust settled, Connecticut had gone on a 15-2 run to begin the third quarter and held a 53-42 lead with 5:40 left in the third quarter.

New York began to chip away at the Connecticut lead as forward Kayla Thornton and Jones each scored three-pointers, but these were negated by two three-pointers by the Sun’s Allen. The Liberty managed to cut the deficit to single digits on two free throws by Stewart with 9.3 seconds remaining, but that was negated with a fadeaway jump shot by Bonner as time expired. The score was 65-55 in favor of Connecticut when the quarter came to a close.

Missed shots added to the Liberty’s woes. Starting with Vandersloot’s miss of a layup with 2:17 remaining in the third quarter, New York missed 10 of their next 11 shots. Stewart hit a turnaround jump shot with 1:33 left in the third quarter and then no Liberty player made a field goal until Stewart connect on an eight-foot hook shot. Meanwhile, Bonner scored the next seven points for the Sun during the Liberty drought. Stewart’s hook shot made the score 72-58 in favor of the Sun with 6:05 left in the fourth quarter. The two rivals traded baskets the rest of the way and the Sun took home the 78-63 win and a 1-0 series lead.

Connecticut went 31-for-69 from the field (44.9 percent); 8-for-24 in three-point shooting (33.3 percent); 8-for-10 in three throws (80 percent). They turned the ball over 13 times leading to six Liberty points.

“At the end of the day, especially that fourth quarter, we were committed to five players boxing out and finishing defensive plays,” said Sun head coach Stephanie White. “They [New York] are such an offensive juggernaut that we had to make everything as difficult as possible. I feel like our team really took ownership of that today.”

New York went 23-for-68 from the field (33.8 percent); 8-for-27 in three-point shooting (29.6 percent); and 9-for-12 from the charity stripe (75 percent). The Liberty turned the ball over 14 times leading to 13 Connecticut points.

Connecticut Sun forward DeWanna Bonner drives on New York Liberty forward Jonquel Jones during Sunday’s WNBA Semifinals Game 1 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine

“We came out really slow in the first quarter and the third quarter. It’s been happening the last few games,” said Liberty head coach Sandy Brondello. “I think it’s our mindset and then frustration sets in, we don’t execute and we know we’re better than that. Now our back’s against the wall and we have to try to respond in the right way.”

Connecticut led New York 34-22 in point-in-the-paint, and had the 7-0 lead on fast break points. The Liberty held the edge 12-6 in second chance points.

“What I love about this group is that they are going to compete no matter what,” said White. “I felt like we minimized our mistakes today. We corrected quickly. We made adjustments that we needed to make and we went out and executed. That’s what it’s going to take. It is a long series. We’re going to enjoy this win and then we are going to turn the page. We have to get ready because I know they’re going to respond.”

DeWanna Bonner led the Sun with 20 points. Rebecca Allen scored 18, while Tiffany Hayes and Natisha Hiedeman each scored 12. Bonner, Allen, Hayes and Alyssa Thomas each pulled down seven rebounds in the effort. Thomas dished 10 assists in the contest.

“We hold everybody accountable in that locker room. That’s just what it is,” said Bonner. “I don’t care what year you are. I don’t care how long you’ve been in this league. I don’t care what type of player. We hold everybody to the same standard. We don’t cut any slack, that’s for sure. I don’t think anybody should be surprised.”

The Liberty was led by 19 points from Breanna Stewart, 14 points from Jonquel Jones, and 12 points by Sabrina Ionescu. Jones led all rebounders with 11 and Courtney Vandersloot led New York with seven assists.

“they were being aggressive and blowing things up for us, but I don’t think we handled it well,” said Stewart. “We didn’t stay poised or composed. We’ll bounce back. We’ll watch film tomorrow and be ready for Tuesday.”

Bonner now moved into third all-time in franchise history for postseason scoring (394). Her six field goals made puts her into fourth all-time in WNBA postseason history with 362. Alyssa Thomas moved into ninth all-time in WNBA postseason history with 213 career assists.

The Sun hold a 1-0 lead in the best-of-five series, which resumes with Game 2 at Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn at 8 p.m. ET/7 p.m. CT on Tuesday.

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