New York Liberty Rally

CHICAGO  — With a 98-91 victory over the reigning champion Chicago Sky on Wednesday night, the New York Liberty took control of their first-round series. A stunning assist from guard Marine Johannes sparked a 13-0 run that ended the game for the Liberty after they were down by six points with three and a half minutes remaining.

For an easy layup, forward Natasha Howard received an unbelievable over-the-head pass from Johannes. To be prepared for such a pass, even if you don’t expect it, is something that Howard learned to do while playing alongside a WNBA great on her last club before joining the Liberty. After the game, Howard, who spent 2019 and 2020 with Seattle, remarked, “It kind of reminds me of a Sue Bird pass.” So, “it triggered some memories.”

With Johannes’s help, the Liberty won the game by going 5-for-5 from the field in the final minutes to secure the franchise’s first postseason victory since September 23, 2015. The 114 points scored by New York were a playoff record for the Knicks. Howard and Liberty guard Sabrina Ionescu both scored 22 points to lead their teams.

As Ionescu put it, “we battled all game through ups and downs.” “We were down by a large margin in the fourth, but we kept chipping away at the deficit. It was more of a sense of accomplishment that we made it here and performed the job at hand if you will pardon the expression. Including what no one thought we were capable of doing.” After going scoreless for the final 3:32 of Wednesday’s game, Chicago has pushed the Sky to the verge of elimination in this three-game series.

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The Sky went scoreless in the final two minutes, missing both free throws and shooting 0% from the field. According to ESPN Stats & Information’s analysis, they had numerous opportunities in the final period but converted on only two of nine, including missing all six of their attempts from beyond the arc.

Sky player Azura Stevens remarked after the game, “We were down and trying to pull back, and I don’t know, I feel like we haven’t panicked all year, and today we might have a little bit.” “That’s a bit out of our usual style. It’s okay though since we’ll make up for it on Saturday.” Kahleah Copper led the Sky with 21 points, while four other players reached double figures, but the Sky were unable to score in the final minutes or secure a defensive stop. As of Wednesday, they had allowed the most points in a postseason game since 2016.

Candace Parker, a forward for the Sky, remarked, “We have to stay together” after she scored 17 points and added 10 rebounds and 5 assists. “This is a series, according to [Courtney Vandersloot]. We are stronger as a unit and we know it. We’re very aware that we made this difficult. But as we’ve done before, we can only focus on one game at a time. Future planning is out of the question. On Saturday, we need to play better as a team.”

Chicago hosts Saturday afternoon’s Game 2 of the weekend series.

Before the 2018 WNBA season began, the league changed its playoff system to feature a best-of-three first round instead of the traditional single-elimination format that had been in place since 2016. Sky coach James Wade voiced his displeasure with the current arrangement earlier this week, in which the higher seed hosts the first two games before giving the lower seed the advantage of playing at home in a potentially deciding Game 3.

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What it comes down to is playing hard for 40 minutes,” Wade said after the game. “We can’t even match up with them for 30 minutes, let alone 35. Since they’ll take advantage of any time of rest during the 40 minutes we have to play them, we can’t afford to take a break. This is how everyone plans to play when facing the victors.” Now the Sky needs a win in Game 3 in Brooklyn to continue on in the playoffs and try to become the first team to win back-to-back WNBA championships in 20 years. And with a victory, New York will have thrown the playoffs into chaos.

In order to win a series, especially in this format, all Liberty’s head coach Sandy Brondello has to do is steal one game. “To have fought and stuck together like this is something of which I am quite proud. Playoff basketball is never easy, and they weren’t always flawless. In the end, we succeeded. All that’s left to do is get up and get ready for the next match. It’s a best-of-two series, but if we win both games, we’ll move on.”