Good things keep happening. The New York Liberty were at home Thursday night to face the Washington Mystics. The defense did their job in earning a quality double-digit victory in front of the hometown faithful. Once this game is over, the Liberty will hit the road for a bit.
Today’s opponent will be the Seattle Storm. Noelle Quinn and company have righted the ship after a series of tough games. They continued their five-game road trip Friday night in a marquee game against the Connecticut Sun, and lost 82-71. The L ended its four-game winning streak. Once that’s over, they’ll head home for a four-game homestand starting Thursday night.
Where to watch the game
ESPN is the place to be. Tipping is after noon ET.
Betnijah Laney and Jocelyn Willoughby are out. Rebecca Allen is out and in concussion protocol. Didi Richards has been struggling with a hamstring injury but is not on injury report and will be back today.
Mercedes Russell is being treated for a recurrent atypical headache syndrome and is absent for this contest.
The Storm won Game 1 and Game 2 in May.
We get to watch two exceptional 22-year-old centers this afternoon. On the one hand, EZI THE GUM!!! Ezi Magbegor has been absolutely splendid at center and leads the WNBA in blocks at 2.8 per game. She is lucky to become the third player in the WNBA to average at least three blocks per game, joining Margo Dydek and Brittney Griner. Ezi is also on course to have the most blocks per game in a season since BG in 2018. The Storms are third in fastbreak points, and when your big can start a break with kickass rim protection, good things will occur
We will see how the Liberty will attack Magbegor this afternoon.
For NY, their 22-year-old great continued her star turn. Han Xu put on another great game on Thursday breaking the double digit mark on the bench again. Han’s ability to stretch the floor and score from everywhere will be invaluable tonight. She still needs to do better against physical defenses, and today will be a great test of her rapid improvements.
With Richards and Allen out on Thursday, Sandy Brondello pitched Marine Johannes to the small forward. Mesmerizing passes and general badassery aside, Johannes’ defense was key to Liberty’s victory on Thursday. She was assigned to Natasha Cloud after the halftime break, and the Liberty combined to keep Cloud 2-7 from the field (0-3 from three points and no free throw attempts) with four turnovers. Today she is going to hunt Jewell Loyd. Loyd cooked the Liberty in Game 2 this season but is barely above 40% from the field this season and hits the free throw line at his lowest clip since the 2019 season. If they can prevent Loyd warm up, they can slow down the storm.
Richards’ return will give the Liberty some much-needed size on the boards and in defense. On Thursday, Brondello said she expects to face Richards in around 10 to 12 minutes. I think we can assume that the same restrictions are also in effect today. As Richards moves away from injury, she will have more opportunities to play and contribute.
The Liberty made a season-low ten turnovers on Thursday, and they were much better at dealing with basketball in June (third-lowest this month). Today will be a major test of their recent improvements. In the Seattle miniseries, the Libs coughed 42 times in losing both games. The Storm leads the WNBA in opponent turnover rate, and if they are able to force the Liberty to make mistakes, they will have the opportunity to get easy points in transition.
The foursome match is going to be fun as hell. On one side will be Natasha Howard. Howard was masterful Thursday as she punished the Mystics inside to a career-high 22 points in the paint. Howard was on pace with her teammates, who found her on the inside again and again. The Liberty have continued to build their chemistry, and if they can continue to find Howard in the right places, she will continue to rack up the points.
On the other side stands Breanna Stewart. As I’m sure will be mentioned on the show, the Liberty attempted to acquire Stewie in free agency this winter, but she decided to re-sign him with the Storm. Stewart is still one of the best players in the sport as she can score at all three levels, is an excellent frontcourt defender and someone you can count on to be one of the team leaders. She is also an MVP candidate, like Zach Ward of Swish call Explain :
It’s hard to tell Stewart’s seasons apart because, statistically, they’re so close to being this good. Sometimes the points were up a bit, other seasons the rebounds and other the assists. This year his steals are up and his rookie year his blocks were up. But everything revolves around the same area. So far, 2016 has seen his career best in blocks, 2018 has seen his career best in points, 2020 has seen his career best in assists and steals, and 2021 has seen his career best in rebounding. If things hold, 2022 will see her set new highs in terms of scoring and steals. His career lows in each category are still a stunning 18.3 points, 8.3 rebounds (7.5 this year), 2.5 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.3 blocks (0.8 this year) .
Howard, Stef Dolson and the rest of the Liberty will do whatever they can to stop Stewart from taking over. It takes a team effort to slow down a superstar.
Player to watch: Sue Bird
Saying goodbye to a legend is never easy. Sue Bird has been a force in basketball since her sophomore season at the University of Connecticut in 1999-2000. From there, she went on to become one of the most decorated basketball players of all time, as she won everywhere she went on multiple occasions. When announcing his retirement, Bird spoke about his basketball journey and his retirement:
“I’ve been doing this since I was five or six years old. That’s really all I know. So of course I’m sad. It’s a bit like mourning knowing that I’m going to miss it. That’s probably why for many years I’ve been saying I won’t announce my retirement, because I know I’d accept that. I am sentimental. I don’t like change.
It worked perfectly that her retirement tour started in the Northeast as she is from New York and rose to fame in Connecticut. To a wonderful career and future induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame.
Despite all the history she’s made, Bird is still a damn good player. She is one of the greatest ground generals in the game and always makes sure her teammates are in the best possible scoring position. When the game is on the line, you can put it in Bird’s hands and trust that she will deliver
As Seattle looks to get back to the top of the mountain, Bird will do whatever she can to lead the way.
One of the players who will lead the charge for the next generation of WNBA players will be Sabrina Ionescu. Sab was exceptional, and as Sky Hill of His hoop stats Noted:
As of June, Sabrina is currently averaging 22 points per game, 6.9 rebounds per game, and 6.9 assists per game while shooting just under 50% from the field and 37% from three-point range. . Even if you consider Thursday’s game against the Mystics a “bad” outing where she shot 3 for 16 from the floor, Ionescu still flirted with a triple-double and finished the game with five stocks (steals + blocks ). All in all, thanks to Sabrina for holding on and responding as the season reached its darkest point.
Ionescu has figured things out since the two-game series against the Storm and has been wreaking havoc on the league all month. The Storm will try to be physical with her, but Ionescu was able to succeed against physical defenses and attack downhill. Magbegor will be waiting for him at the edge this afternoon, but Ionescu and the Liberty have shown they are up to the challenge of playing the best in the league.
From the safe
It’s a Sue Sunday, and everybody celebrates
More reading: Swish Appeal, Just Women’s Sports, Winsidr, Her Hoop Stats and The Next