After letting a 10-point fourth-quarter lead slip away, the New York Liberty trailed by two against the defending champion Chicago Sky on Saturday night with just 19 seconds remaining. In desperate need of a basket, they turned to their All-Star point guard Sabrina Ionescu.
Controlling up top with time winding down and defensive specialist Rebekah Gardner crowding her space, Ionescu had to make a decision. She chose to put the ball on the deck and drive to the basket, but it appeared Gardner was going to cut her off and force her to the baseline. Instead, after a nifty hesitation move, Ionescu created just enough of an angle to sneak past Gardner and finish at the rim plus the foul.
“Well they were forcing me right, so I just went right,” Ionescu said. “But hats off to my teammates. They got me open and believed in me in crunch time. Really happy to have made that shot.”
Ionescu, who finished with 17 points, eight rebounds and nine assists, calmly stepped to the line and completed the and-one to give the Liberty the lead with 9.7 seconds to go. They would go on to secure an 83-80 victory to end the Sky’s six-game winning streak and their own five-game losing streak.
After a historically bad 1-7 start, the Liberty embarked on a stunning turnaround and won seven of their next 10 games to get back into the playoff picture. The wheels fell off again after that, however, and entering Saturday night they had lost five in a row and seven of their last eight.
Considering the opponent, their recent run of form and the dramatic finish, this was perhaps the biggest win of the season for the Liberty. Despite all the ups and downs, they are still in the mix for a playoff spot. Thanks to the upset win over the Sky, they moved up to 10th place and within 1.5 games of the eighth-place Phoenix Mercury.
There is a mass of six teams between sixth and 11th place that are separated by just three games and fighting for three playoff spots. Eight of the Liberty’s nine remaining games are against those teams: two each against the Mercury, Los Angeles Sparks, Dallas Wings and Atlanta Dream.
If the past few months have been any indication, the Liberty are set for plenty of drama down the stretch. And if things break their way, they just might sneak into the playoffs after all.
“Hopefully it’s the start [of another turnaround],” Ionescu said. “We’re gonna keep building, we’re gonna keep trusting in the process and building together. It started tonight and we’re gonna continue to chip away and hopefully continue to get some wins.”