The New York Liberty, defeated the Connecticut Sun 89-58 on Friday night in Brooklyn. In front of a sell out crowd of 8,276 fans, Breanna Stewart led the way with a double-double.
On Friday night, the New York Liberty matched up with the Connecticut Sun for the fourth and final time. With a 3-0 lead, Liberty Head Coach Sandy Brondello anticipated a highly competitive matchup, similarly to their 95-90 overtime win against the Sun in game 3. This was especially since Liberty star Sabrina Ionescu was ruled out ahead of the event.
"They're a great team. They had a lot of players returning. I think they've grown so much throughout the year, just like we all have," said Brondello. "They've always been tough on defense and very disruptive. I think the way they play, they're sharing the ball. [Alyssa Thomas] at the point forward position certainly helps them. We know they're going to be motivated, we want to keep our good rhythm going into the playoffs," Brondello told the media prior to the game.
Coach Brondello had the right mindset heading into this game in terms of the opposition. However, Fridays' matchup between the Connecticut Sun and New York Liberty couldn't have gone worse for Connecticut. For New York, star forward Breanna Stewart had 8 points by the end of the first quarter. With the absence of Brionna Jones for the Suns, Stewart took advantage of the mismatches, especially against Tiffany Hayes. Prior to the game, former MVP Jonquel Jones elaborated on the matchup against her former team, and their plan of attack.
The Liberty stellar defense shines
"Obviously Connecticut had a big loss with [Brionna Jones] going down, and I think they're a little bit smaller inside," Jones told reporters. Because of that, It's given us an advantage in that standpoint. As much as we dont want anyone to get hurt, we do have to take advantage of the mismatches and being able to control the boards."
Jones was right on the money pre-game, and the New York Liberty were able to do just that. She played exceptional defense on both Alyssa Thomas and DeWanna Bonner in the paint. Thomas and Bonner, the two anchors of the Sun, had a combined 17 points, 8 rebounds, on 5-16 field goal shooting. Even worse, Thomas acquired 3 fouls by halftime, and 4 by the end of the third quarter.
By the end of regulation, New York dominated on the boards, 40-27, along in the paint, 42-28. Brondello's squad held Connecticut to just 33 percent shooting from the field, and 30 percent from the three. Prior to this game, the Sun shot a remarkable 63.6 percent from downtown against Phoenix. Stephanie Whites squad only had two players that finished with points in double figures, Tiffany Hayes with 11, and Olivia Nelson-Ododa with 10 points.
You read that correctly, 11 points. The caliber of defense played by New York was so extraordinary, their leading scorer didn't break past 11 points scored. Since the All-Star break, the Liberty have the best win percentage in the league (.833), remain the top offensive team, and second defensively, behind Los Angeles. New York handed Connecticut their worst loss of the season, with a low of 58 points. In fact, it was their worst game against New York since September 2021.
Betnijah Laney is a key factor on both sides of the ball
Liberty forward Betnijah Laney is certainly making her case for defensive player of the year. In 28 minutes, Laney finished with 19 points, 3 rebounds, 2 steals and blocks. Although the box score doesn't always reflect the impact No. 44 has on this team, Laney continues to be a focal point on both sides of the ball. Without the presence of Sabrina Ionescu on the floor, we saw some different sides of Laney's game.
Along with some minutes at the point guard position, we saw several athletic spin moves, especially against Rebecca Allen and Tiffany Hayes. With a lineup of Marine Johannes, Stefanie Dolson, Kayla Thornton, and Breanna Stewart, Laney stunned the crowd with the ability to create her own shot. Towards the end of the first quarter, we saw No. 44 sink a step back, self created three point shot. The double coverage of Stewart, opened several looks for Laney beyond the perimeter. Although unable to finish some layups, the aggressiveness and hustle shown by Laney was encouraging.
Defensively, we saw Betnijah Laney play the lane effectively, and was a force against both Thomas and Bonner. The New York Liberty's highlight of the game included a come from behind block by Laney on Hatar, who is 6 foot 10. Post game, Coach Sandy Brondello reflects on her performance, especially her case for defensive player of the year. "She always gets the best player and does a great job of that" Brondello told reporters. She can score points too in a variety of ways. [Betnijah], we put her in spots to be aggressive, and then her just making great plays. She's great. She's a competitor, and keeps getting better and better."
Breanna Stewart is the MVP for the Liberty
When former MVP Breanna Stewart signed with the Liberty earlier this year, it was unclear how her statistics would change, especially with the level of talent and depth on the team. In her first season with New York, and 7th in the WNBA, the forward is having an MVP caliber season, which includes career-highs in points per game (22.8). There's one thing to know--many of her teammates consider Stewart the MVP of the team, and the focal part of the team's makeup. Prior to the matchup, Jonquel Jones emphasized the importance of Breanna Stewart, and the impact she has on the team.
"Her ability to score on different levels, defensively, being in the right places, and blocking shots," said Jones. "The thing that you guys don't see--is her commitment to the game, in the gym everyday. She's definitely been our leader, and our team wouldn't be in a position it's in today without her being able to do the thing's that [Breanna Stewart] has done." "Multiple 40 point games, she's our MVP, and I would love to see her win the MVP at the end of the season," Jones told the media.
Although Stewart finished with only 14 points, she strengthened her MVP case. In 26 minutes, No. 30 grabbed 10 rebounds, dished out 7 assists, had one steal, and shot 7-11 from the field. With the Sun doubling her, especially down low, it created space and opportunities for her teammates. Along with exceptional defense on Alyssa Thomas, Stewart made several mid range fadeaway shots, in addition to lay ins. With her high IQ on the floor and unselfish play, Stewart found several three-point looks to both Jonquel Jones and Betnijah Laney. Her 8 defensive rebounds helped the Liberty dominate in second chance points, as well as paint dominance.
The Liberty's bench dominates on the glass
Prior to the matchup with the Connecticut Sun, the New York Liberty ranked 10th in bench points, averaging 15.2 points per game. With New York's early lead over Connecticut, coach Brondello was able to rotate several players, and experiment with several different lineups. Defensive forward, Kayla Thornton, who was signed a multi-year extension with the Liberty, tallied 23 minutes, along with Stefanie Dolson, who finished with 18. Jocelyn Willoughby and Nyara Sabally were able to rotate in, especially with 4th quarter garbage time minutes. Center Han Xu, played over 5 minutes, in which the crowd erupted at the Barclays Center.
All members of the second unit were positive on the floor, and had a combined 17 rebounds. Center Stefanie Dolson was a great presence on defense in the paint, especially on Hatar. She was able to get to the free-throw lines, thanks to Alyssa Thomas, and sunk a no look three-point pass at the top of the perimeter. Thornton, a defensive specialist, had impressive minutes and matchup with DeWanna Bonner. Often times, Thornton forced Bonner to take missed shots, and had 6 total rebounds. With the bench providing 15 points as a whole, this is another example how the box score does not include the entire picture. The defensive contribution by all five bench players was eye opening, especially with the playoffs in sight.
The Liberty sweep the Connecticut Sun 4-0
In four games against the Connecticut Sun, the Liberty won all four matchups, and had nearly a 60 point differential across all of their meetings. Although the Connecticut Sun are the third best team in the league, the New York showcased why they are the superior team. Up over 4.5 games ahead of the Sun for the second seed, in 4 games, the Liberty outrebounded the Sun by 31, and shot close to 55 percent from the field last game. On Friday's matchup, the Liberty had four players with points in double-figures, including Marine Johannes, who received the starting nod in place of Ionescu.
With both teams locked in as playoff seeds, the Liberty will face the Chicago Sky Sunday, and the Connecticut Sun against the Sparks on Tuesday.
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Sara Jane is a full-time Sportswriter at BallisLife, Journalist, and Sports Content Creator on Twitch. She has a focus on the NBA, WNBA, NCAA Basketball, and the NFL. Sara Jane currently resides in Connecticut with her Cat and Dog. SJ has her undergraduate degree from the University of Connecticut in Economics.Tweets by BallislifeBets