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    Monday, March 04, 2024

    Ionescu and Laney help Liberty beat Sun 84-77 to even semifinals series at 1-1

    New York Liberty guard Sabrina Ionescu (20) drives to the basket against Connecticut Sun forward DeWanna Bonner (24) during the second half of Game 2 of a WNBA basketball playoffs semifinal, Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2023, in New York. The Liberty won 84-77. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
    Connecticut Sun guard Natisha Hiedeman (2) drives to the basket against New York Liberty guard Courtney Vandersloot (22) during the first half of Game 2 of a WNBA basketball playoffs semifinal Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2023, in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
    Connecticut Sun forward DeWanna Bonner (24) drives against New York Liberty forward Breanna Stewart (30) during the first half of Game 2 of a WNBA basketball playoffs semifinal Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2023, in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

    New York — With their season on the line, Sabrina Ionescu and Betnijah Laney took over to help New York even their playoff series with Connecticut.

    Ionescu scored 21 points and Laney added 20, including a key 3-pointers in the fourth quarter, to help the Liberty beat the Sun 84-77 on Tuesday night to knot their playoff semifinal series 1-1.

    “Understanding what’s at stake. We knew we had to win this game,” Liberty coach Sandy Brondello said. “Win on our home court. you could see a very connected team today.”

    Game 3 is Friday night in Connecticut.

    New York led 59-57 to start the fourth quarter before the team went on a 13-5 run to start the period. Breanna Stewart, who was having a rough offensive night hours after she was honored as the WNBA's MVP, hit her first 3-pointer of the series to cap the spurt and give the Liberty a 72-62 advantage. Stewart had missed her first 11 3s in the opening two games. She finished the game with 11 points, 11 rebounds, five assists, and five blocks but missed 10 of her 13 shots from the field.

    Connecticut was able to get within striking distance a few times after that, but Laney answered with key 3-pointers. Her second one made it 80-70 with 2:55 left. Laney was coming off a rough Game 1 where she had just three points.

    The Sun scored five straight to make one final push, trailing 80-75 with 1:43 left before Ionescu hit two free throws and then got a steal on the next possession to seal the win.

    “We played within ourselves, battled for 40 minutes and we had to weather the storm,” Ionescu said. “B hit huge shots for us. Slooty hit huge slots for us. Stewie hit a huge one as well. Everyone made the plays that helped us win the game.”

    Tiffany Hayes scored 30 points and DeWanna Bonner added 19 to lead Connecticut.

    “We came here and got a split, now we have the opportunity to go home,” Connecticut coach Stephanie White said.

    The Liberty, who scored a season-low 63 points in Game 1, trailed by four at the half before getting going in the third quarter. They were down 47-45 before scoring 11 straight, including Stewart's first basket of the game. New York was up 59-50 with 4:14 left in the third before going scoreless the rest of the period as the Sun cut their deficit to 59-57.

    Before the game, Stewart was awarded the league's MVP trophy by WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert much to the delight of the sellout crowd that included Grammy award winner Alicia Keys. Stewart edged Connecticut's Alyssa Thomas and Las Vegas' A'ja Wilson in one of the closest races ever for the award. The entire Liberty team wore MVP Stewart shirts in warmups.

    The Liberty were up 14-7 before Connecticut closed the first quarter on 15-2 run to take 22-16 advantage. Hayes had 12 points in the opening 10 minutes. The Sun continued that spurt extended the lead to 30-18 before the Liberty scored seven straight during a 10-4 run to get in the game.

    Stewart scored her first points of the game on two free throws in that burst.

    New York got within 37-36 before the Sun led by four at the break behind Hayes' 17 points and 11 from Bonner.

    RALLYING BEHIND THEIR LEADER:

    It was an emotional day for Connecticut as Thomas just missed out on winning the MVP. Her teammates rallied around her.

    “What Alyssa did this season was unbelievable. The news was emotional, that was tough for her,” said Bonner, who is engaged to Thomas. “It's tough for our team. but we came out and played for her tonight. We didn’t get the win, but we'll continue to play for her.”

    Thomas finished the game with 10 points, nine assists and eight rebounds.

    TRANSITION POINTS:

    After going without a fast break point in Game 1, New York got its first points on the break on Ionescu's transition 3-pointer in the final minute of the first half. The Liberty finished the game with 16 points on the break.

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