New York Liberty defeat Washington Mystics, 90-75 in Game 1 of WNBA Playoffs

In front of an electric crowd, Sabrina Ionescu helped lift the New York Liberty over the Washington Mystics in Game 1 of the playoffs.

(Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images)

On Friday night, the New York Liberty defeated the Washington Mystics in dominant fashion after a sluggish start. The No. 1 Seed was awarded home court advantage for the first two games, in a best of three playoff matchups. The Washington Mystics, led by Coach Eric Thibault, finished as the seven-seed, and were plagued by several injuries throughout the season.

Prior to the matchup, Sabrina Ionescu appeared at the podium with teammate Courtney Vandersloot. The guard shed light on the importance of staying locked in during the playoffs. " We all understand that we have to play Liberty basketball for 40 minutes," Ionescu told the media. " We're playing against a great team. We don't view [the Mystics] as a seventh seed. They're a great basketball team that have battled us all year long. We have to take these games as seriously as we can, and I know that we will."

The Washington Mystics won the WNBA title in 2019 and retain several players from that championship roster. Vandersloot, who signed with the Liberty this offseason, described their tough matchup with the Mystics, and why this series won't be a walk in the park. " Washington is a really good team and they kind of struggled with injuries. I think that's the only reason they are the seventh seed," said Vandersloot. " They have great players, they've played together for a long time. This is really similar to their 2019 championship roster."

New York Liberty guards Sabrina Ionescu (left) and Courtney Vandersloot (right). Sara Jane Gamelli/Ballislife

Washington took the early lead in the first quarter

Ionescu and Vandersloot couldn't have said it any better. In ten first quarter minutes, the Mystics attacked the Liberty's weaknesses on defense. Guard Brittney Sykes finished the quarter with seven points, including mid-range shots, and looks off screens. In an all-around team effort, Washington finished shooting 40 percent from three, and over 57 percent from the field. Natasha Cloud grabbed six rebounds, and the Mystics outrebounded the Liberty, 10-7. Towards the end of the first, Cloud nearly threw the ball across court, and found Delle Donne for the bucket. Washington took advantage of the mismatch and finished with 14 points in the paint.

Betnijah Laney sets the tone for New York

(Brandon Todd/New York Liberty)

New York Liberty's Betnijah Laney is the definition of "New York grit." With Breanna Stewart off to a slow start, Laney kept the Liberty in contention with eight first quarter points, which included multiple three pointers. With the help of Jonquel Jones, Betnijah was able to utilize screens and create her own shot. At times, we saw Laney take charge, and had several acrobatic lay ins at the basket. On the defensive side, No. 44 played tough perimeter defense on Sykes, including occasional mismatches down below against Elena Delle Donne. Laney finished with 19 points, and playoff career-high eight rebounds.

Post game, Breanna Stewart spoke with the media, and the importance of having Betnijah Laney as a teammate. "We've been preparing all week, and really since Sunday. When [Betnijah] sets the tone like that offensively and defensively, the rest of us kind of followed." said Stewart. " B [Betnijah] was here before me. The fact that she never stops playing, obviously being aggressive on both ends, taking pride in things defensively. Her grit and her toughness is one of a kind."

The Liberty find their stride in the second half

(Brandon Todd/New York Liberty)

For the month of August, the New York Liberty led the WNBA in both offensive and defensive rating. New York also led in total assist percentage and assists to turnover ratio per game. The Liberty, who averaged a league leading 24.1 assists per game, were held to two assists in the first quarter, and only seven by the half.

New York was much more efficient in the second quarter, despite some defensive breakdowns in the paint, and troubles against the pick and roll. Hines-Allen saw several looks in the lane, especially, with weak pick and roll coverage by the Liberty. Myisha Hines-Allen, of the Mystics, had a career-high 21 playoff points.

Collectively, New York held Washington to 13 points in the second quarter on 5-20 field goal, and 1-4 three-point shooting. Offensively, Brondello's team struggled, finishing just 2-10 from the three, and 9-22 from the field in the second quarter. A majority of their points came in the paint, including mismatches with Jonquel Jones over Ariel Atkins. Jones totaled 20 points, 12 rebounds, four assists, and two blocks, which marked her 11th career postseason double double.

The turning point for New York

For a moment, it looked like a game of volleyball. Betnijah Laney somehow, found herself in the low post, putting up a last second bucket with the tipped assist by Breanna Stewart. With the buzzer beater, the eruption could be felt by fans and personnel inside the Barclays Center. From here on out, the momentum began to shift, and the Liberty headed into the halftime locker room. New York only continued to shine from this point forward.

"Yeah, I mean, plays like that there was momentum. It just gives us some good energy, something to feed off of, and being able to have that play go into the half, knowing we did something well, and feel good coming out, you know, it just fuels us. "said Laney post-game.

Momentum strikes for the New York Liberty

Some would argue that momentum doesn't exists. In this case, New York gained momentum, and their shots started to fall. Much like the second quarter, the Liberty held the Mystics to 15.4 three-point percentage in the second half and Elena Delle Donne, to three points. Jonquel Jones continued to attack inside and found the mismatches. With Delle Donne on Ionescu, Breanna Stewart found her game with 10 points in the back half of the matchup. New York then went on a 21-9 run in the third, and 8-0 in the fourth.

New York showed toughness and physicality a majority of the game. Laney continued to battle amongst multiple defenders in the paint, while Jones and Stewart racked up trips to the free-throw line. Defensively, New York was all over the entire court, fighting for each and every possession. Kayla Thornton, Courtney Vandersloot, Breanna Stewart, Jonquel Jones, and Sabrina Ionescu---all of these players battled for possessions on the ground, even when up by points. By the end of regulation, New York finished with a 35.3 three-point percentage, including hitting 5-10 in the third quarter. The Liberty were able to capitalize on second chance points, as well as rebounds.

Breanna Stewart with an off game, and the Liberty limited to 18 assists, New York still held on for the victory. That in itself is a clear statement about this squad-- they play hard and play team ball. With the Washington Mystics shutting down a majority of New York's passing lanes, the Liberty learned how to adjust, and that's what championship contenders do.

Sabrina Ionescu makes history

Notoriously known for giving up big leads in the past, up by 12 by the end of the third, New York didn't take their foot off the gas. Sabrina Ionescu, with 9 points at the half, finished with 12th points in the final quarter, and 29 by the end of regulation. Finishing 10-18, and 7-13 from the three, Ionescu finished with a career-high 29 points in the playoffs. No. 20 showed zero hesitation, both driving to the basket, and hitting shots from downtown. With 1.7 seconds left to go in the third, up by ten points, Ionescu fiercely drove to the basket, and put up a buzzer beating layup.

Ionescu hit seven three-pointers, including back-to-back shots in the final quarter. The crowd exploded each and every time No. 20 hit a bucket. Several celebrities attended the event, including Billie Jean, King, Sue Bird, Malala Yousafzai, along with others. With less than 25 seconds remaining, Ionescu drilled her seven and final three, which sent fans into a frenzy, securing the 90-75 victory. Her seventh three-pointer broke the record for the three-point field goals made by a New York Liberty single player in the playoffs. The guard passed Vickie Johnson and Cappie Pondexter on the all-time list.

No. 20 wasn't happy with the referees

Scoring the final three points for the Liberty, the guard chimed in post-game. "Let me not get fined, " said Ionescu. "I would say some of those threes were for the refs."

In the last regular season matchup against the Washington Mystics, the New York liberty lost to a buzzer beater, which was scored by Brittney Sykes.

"Understanding what that felt like last game, losing on a buzzer at our home court and understanding what we had to do adjustment wise, to not allow that to happen and playoff basketball is different," Ionescu told reporters." "It's 0-0 for everyone and we had to take care of business and not let these opportunities pass by us when we do have home court advantage. "

The New York Liberty will take on the Washington Mystics for Game 2 on Sept 19. With one more Victory, the Liberty could move onto the semifinals.


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