BROOKLYN, NY – After the WNBA-record 38-point playoff loss to the Sky in Game 2, Liberty star Sabrina Ionescu got a text from one of her mentors. The message came from Nets coach Steve Nash, who, both as a player and coach, has had his fair share of playoff misses. In it, Nash stressed to Ionescu the importance of not getting too down after an individual loss.
“What’s important is how you bounce back,” Ionescu said before Tuesday’s series-clinching game, reflecting on the Nets coach’s message.
Ionescu looked poised to bounce back in the third game, a performance three days earlier that saw her score just seven points in 22 minutes. Veteran New York guard Sami Whitcomb said before Tuesday’s interview that he had not seen Ionescu fail to respond to adversity, noting, “[Ionescu] live for this moment This is a really exciting opportunity for her and I hope she does great.”
But against the defending champion Sky, Ionescu’s playoff crowning came to a screeching halt and New York’s season came to an abrupt end with a 90–72 loss. loss Unsurprisingly, however, Ionescu still showed why she is one of the most electrifying and prolific players in the sport. He sank his first shot attempt of the night, to the delight of a sellout crowd of 7,837, and his hairy five-pointer to open the fourth quarter saw the home fans waving their green foam towels of sea, with a quote attributed to his imprint. on him, with emotion. He finished the game with 14 points, six rebounds and four assists.
The final margin of defeat in Tuesday’s Game 3, while compelling, is also somewhat misleading. New York only trailed by three points less than a minute into the quarter, before a 16-0 run by the experienced Sky broke the game open. “We pushed them, we tried, things just didn’t go our way tonight,” Liberty coach Sandy Brondello said. Chicago scored all five starters in double figures and shot 48% from the field in the win.
In many ways, despite Tuesday’s outcome, New York’s 2022 season can still be viewed as a success. Brondello said before Game 3 that hosting a home playoff game, the franchise’s first at Barclays Center, was a step in the right direction, though he hoped the team could build “for years to come” . Forward Natasha Howard made her first All-Star team since 2019, and center Han Xu and guard Marine Johannes produced stellar seasons that made them key pieces for the team’s future.
For Ionescu, he entered the 2022 campaign fully healthy for the first time since the start of his rookie season. After playing just three games in the league bubble due to a season-ending ankle injury and dealing with lingering ankle problems for the past year, he made his first All appearance -Star last July. She is also likely to make one of the league’s All-WNBA teams when the league announces them on Sept. 15.
He averaged 17.4 points, 7.1 rebounds and 6.3 assists per game, all career highs.
“I didn’t miss a game this year and for me that was very important,” Ionescu said. “If you want me to be honest, I’m happy. I never thought I would be able to complete a full season. I was at my lowest point a year ago and so obviously I hate losing more than I love winning, but at the end of the day I just have to look at the big picture.”
Part of that future outlook is how he plans to take advantage of his first healthy offseason as a pro. He said Tuesday that he intends to improve his strength, shooting speed and ball handling. She hopes to continue to grow as a shot creator and create more effectively without using a ball screen as well.
“I don’t think there’s a category in which I’m not getting better or better,” he said.
Then there are also his goals for the franchise. Although Ionescu has led the Liberty to the playoffs in each of the two seasons in which he has appeared in more than 30 In the games, he wants New York to compete for a seed and not have to compete in first-round games with their “backs against the wall.” He also hopes to take the franchise to the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 2017.
Throughout Game 3, and in almost the entire series more broadly, Chicago’s past successes mattered. Sure, he blew Game 1 at home, but he did so only after allowing an uncharacteristic 13-0 run, which stretched from 3:20 of the fourth quarter to just 39 seconds left in the game.
Then in Game 2, the Sky bounced back the way defenders are expected to. They attacked the Liberty in the first quarter, forcing nine steals, the most in a first quarter of a WNBA playoff game since 2009, to take a 31-10 lead that would only grow.
Although he was only leading five after the first quarter of Game 3, their lead was 12 heading into the halftime locker room, a good sign considering they entered Game 3 20–3 when leading at halftime.
In seasons past, Chicago wouldn’t even have needed to face New York in the first round of the playoffs. (In the league’s previous format, it would have a double bye in the league semifinals.) But last November, the W unveiled a tweaked playoff structure, eliminating all byes and single-elimination series . Instead, it was a best-of-three series, with the first two games on the home court of the higher seed. However, the road game that decided the series proved no difference.
With every push New York made in the final 20 minutes of Tuesday’s win, Chicago responded. And no answer was more telling of who was the better team than their 16 years–0 run, which extended a three-point lead to 19.
“If we had the experience they had, I think we’d be in a good place,” Ionescu said.
With another playoff series completed, the Liberty hope they learn from what happened Tuesday night and in the previous two games. She is optimistic that more fruitful days will come.
“We’ll be back,” Ionescu said.
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