Thursday, August 18, 2022

Liberty take huge step towards WNBA playoff berth with 20-point comeback win over Sparks

Sabrina Ionescu has come up clutch time and again for the New York Liberty this season, so it was little surprise when she did so again on Wednesday night in their most important game yet. After a 20-point comeback, she dragged them over the finish line to secure a crucial 64-61 win over the Los Angeles Sparks. 

After scoring just eight points in the first quarter, and trailing by 20 early in the second, the Liberty were in a tough spot. But as the night went along, they slowly worked their way back into the game thanks in large part to their defense, which held the Sparks to just 37 points over the final three quarters. 

Still, for all their work, they remained down by three with a little over two minutes remaining. That’s when Ionescu took the game over. Taking a handoff from Natasha Howard, she got the step on Olivia Nelson-Ododa and drove to the rim for the tough reverse layup plus the foul. 

She missed the free throw that could have tied the game, but redeemed herself in short order by hitting two free throws a few possessions later to put the Liberty in front. Then she was fouled while shooting a 3-pointer and made two of three free throws to give the Liberty a three-point lead with 34.6 seconds remaining. 

Even then she wasn’t done. After Jordin Canada responded with two free throws to draw the Sparks within one, the Liberty needed one more big play from Ionescu. She delivered by melting down nearly the entire shot clock before banking home a short jumper over Katie Lou Samuelson that sealed the win. 

Ionescu didn’t have her most efficient outing — no one on the Liberty did, as they shot 31.5 percent from the field, which was the worst shooting performance in a win by any team since 2019 — but she finished with 20 points, eight rebounds, six assists and two steals. 

Down the stretch, she scored the final eight points for the Liberty, nearly matching the Sparks’ total as a team in the fourth quarter. For the season, Ionescu is now averaging 3.1 clutch points per game, which is third in the league behind only Skylar Diggins-Smith and Breanna Stewart. In terms of total fourth-quarter scoring, Ionescu is tied with Stewart for the league lead at 5.5 points per game. 

Thanks to Ionescu’s latest heroics, the Liberty picked up their third straight win and second in a row over the Sparks to take the season series and tiebreaker between the two clubs. Now 13-18 on the season, the Liberty sit in eighth place with five games remaining — all of which are against teams just above or behind them in the standings. 

There’s still plenty of work to be done, but the Liberty control their destiny for a playoff spot — something that would have been unimaginable a few months ago after their historically bad 1-7 start. 

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