NEW YORK — The New York Liberty could have easily faltered during all the fleeting moments when they thought they would win. It has occurred before, and Breanna Stewart is able to mark them down, one early loss at a time.
The more seasoned Washington Mystics, who were in town on Sunday for a matinee rematch of top-four teams, were the opponent in the season opener. at home against Chicago, when the Liberty lost by 19 points to a team that is also rebuilding its roster but does not have the star-studded talent. Additionally, the Atlanta Dream, a 2023 lottery team, upset Barclays Center two weeks ago.
“I think the struggle in those three losses was the ability to kind of come together,” Stewart said after Sunday’s 89-88 overtime victory against Washington, which was hard and often ugly. We also become more resilient when things get tough.
Additionally, they become more vocal, supportive, and collaborative. It’s how any team builds a winning team with so many new players. The Mystics, who roster a significant portion of their 2019 title-winning core, are aware that it takes work to quickly and effectively communicate about what each other likes and dislikes. They have witnessed it.
Ariel Atkins, a sixth-year Mystics veteran, stated, “Most of us that have been a part of this team [it’s] about] not being afraid to say or have the hard conversation that I think has been really helpful for us.” Opening your mouth is a great way to quickly build rapport. I believe that’s something we’ve tried to achieve.”
After adding two former MVPs and a six-time assists leader to their starting lineup in a single offseason, the Liberty (9-3) are still figuring out that strategy. There are indications that the chemistry of so many offensive vocal points is coming together more than a quarter of the way into the newly expanded 40-game season. The team’s No. 1 player, Sabrina Ionescu They’ve seen it in their ability to “handle adversity and handle teams’ runs,” as the No. 1 overall pick in 2020 puts it.
Just a few days after what players and head coach Sandy Brondello called their most complete game, a 110-80 reversal victory against Atlanta, there was plenty of difficulty to be had on Sunday.
In the first four minutes of the game, the Liberty, who led the league in assists and 3-pointers, fell into a 13-0 deficit. The Mystics’ league-leading defense, which is also the best at limiting opponents on the perimeter and has served as the team’s steadying anchor, proved to be ineffective against the league’s second-best offense.
Mystics (8-5) first-year head coach Eric Thibault stated, “Our chemistry was probably more ready defensively to start the year, and now we’re starting to figure some things out on the offense.”
The Liberty missed all seven of their initial attempts at a 3-point shot, went 1-of-12 from the floor, and missed their first nine shots. It was a “truly harsh” first quarter, Stewart said, in which the Freedom pawed back to inside 10 and enjoyed the shots they were getting. The first basket was scored by Betnijah Laney with an assist from Courtney Vandersloot and a cut by Laney. In 2021, the former Most Improved Player became a free agent and scored 17 points while shooting 4-of-6 from three-point range. With the exception of that nearly disastrous first, New York went on to achieve its goal of winning every frame as the defensive focus intensified.
Ionescu stated, “We stayed together, weathering the storm in that first quarter.” In the past, this team has frequently collapsed. But I think we know what we’re playing for, and we’re playing for each other. We were able to dig ourselves out of that hole, and throughout the second half, we felt like we were in control. It reveals a great deal about our developing chemistry, in my opinion.
They focused on communicating, huddling, and continuing to work, according to Stewart, who was missing her shooting touch and didn’t hit a shot until the first bucket after halftime. The “game is nowhere near finished,” they told one another. According to Brondello, issues arise when things are quiet, and Sunday was no exception.
Brondello stated, “The moment that we came together and we came closer was probably the third quarter.” Our breaking point occurred at the start of the third quarter. Okay, the first half is over. We respond in this manner.
They took their first lead with 6:04 left in the game, but Atkins, who scored a career-high six points on a near-perfect day, hit another three-pointer to quickly take it away. Washington outscored its offensive averages by 47.8 percent and 42.9% (9-of-21) from three, led by her 24 points.
With 2:28 remaining, the Liberty was eight points behind, but they outscored Washington 11-3 in the final quarter to perfectly counter the Mystics’ own 11-3 lead. A driving layup off Vandersloot’s touch in the final 1.9 seconds tied the game.
At the end, there were so many missed shots, passes, and free throws that overtime seemed unlikely. At least to everyone else, it was.
Ionescu, who shot 7-of-12 from deep and scored 31 points, said, “There was a lot of times where we pick people’s heads up.” Individuals weren’t hitting shots. Furthermore, that is a period where it’s like, ‘Hello, you got this.’ Now onto the next one. There was simply a belief in us that we can accomplish this, even when we were down in that fourth quarter. And we are able to complete this. And that continued into the overtime period.”
Since July 1, 2018, it was the Liberty’s first overtime victory. Vandersloot scored the first points for the team, but another setback came when she fouled out on a poor call. She had seven rebounds, 11 points, and six assists. Stewart, who played through five fouls to finish with 18 points, six rebounds, and three assists, tied the game at 19 seconds with an and-1 for the lead. Ionescu made two three-pointers. Myisha Hines-Allen missed a shot after the final timeout, and Marine Johannès got the rebound after Elena Delle Donne missed a floater.
Ionescu said, “The game kind of was going back and forth, but we really stuck together, and I think it shows a lot about the growth of this team, especially early in the season to be able to have that.” “The game kind of was going back and forth, but we really stuck together.” We can expect it to get us a long way.”
With center Jonquel Jones, who was traded to New York by the Sun, coming off a foot injury, and point guard Vandersloot, who signed in free agency, suffering a concussion in the preseason, the chemistry development experienced early setbacks. When New York’s super-team season began in Washington, Johannès was still in France.
Thibault said an hour before tip, “They are a very different team.” Everyone is well aware that this game will be different.
To win the battle on Sunday, Liberty players had to play different roles than usual. According to Stewart, they each stepped up to “fill the void that one another makes.” Jones, who has appeared to be stronger in recent games, missed all three of his attempts to score and did not participate in overtime or the final minute of regulation. Brondello stated that she desired Kayla Thornton’s bench versatility.
Additionally, they were without Stefanie Dolson, who suffered an ankle injury and will be out for “weeks, not days,” according to Brondello. At the Asia Cup, Han Xu is still present. For the entire forty minutes, none of the pieces have yet come together.
“Aren’t these the games where you learn the most?” Brondello stated, You get through some mud, and it’s a great way to learn. In addition, during that second quarter, we fought back. That team is tough. It seems to me like, “We’ve been here, we’ve done it.” We are aware of the requirements.
We’ve lost a game when we were leading by 17 points. That was an instructive experience. You are aware of how it is. So I can ask, “When did that occur?” OK. Then, what were you thinking? Well, modify it.
There have been more group learning opportunities for other teams. They know where their shooting guard likes to shoot or where their big posts up best in muscle memory. This week, during their most challenging stretch of the season thus far, the Liberty will see that.
The Liberty begin a long road trip on Tuesday in Connecticut (12-3) against the league’s second-best team. Stewart acknowledged that it was satisfying to win on Sunday and set the tone. Jones will play her first game back in Uncasville, where she won the MVP award in 2021 and led the league’s winningest team from 2017 to 22.
There’s a much longer approach in pursuing the science of the Las Vegas Experts (12-1), who assembled their title group over the course of the years with No. two significant free-agent signings two years apart and the No. 1 pick. On Thursday, the super teams will meet for the first time in Las Vegas.
Things are about to become difficult. Although technically not midseason, it could be a midterm for their chemistry.