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Preview: Sabrina Ionescu leads New York Liberty in rematch against Indiana Fever

Fresh off a close opening-day victory, the New York Liberty travel to Indiana to play the Fever in the second half of a home-and-home series. Meanwhile, the Phoenix Mercury will hope their own good fortunes continue against a physically imposing Connecticut Sun team.

Indiana Fever v New York Liberty
Sabrina Ionescu and the New York Liberty will get another crack at the Indiana Fever, who they beat in dramatic fashion on opening night.
Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

The 2021 WNBA season continues on Sunday with a pair of games televised on CBS Sports Network. At 2 p.m. ET, the New York Liberty (1-0) will hit the road to finish their home-and-home series against the Indiana Fever (0-1). Then, at 7 p.m. ET, the Phoenix Mercury (1-0) will take on the Connecticut Sun (1-0) in Uncasville.

Fans couldn’t have asked for a much more exciting season opener than New York’s 90-87 victory over Indiana. In a back-and-forth affair that was tied at the half and saw 10 lead changes, the Liberty were led by Sabrina Ionescu, who hit a 3-pointer with under a second remaining to seal the deal in New York’s favor. Heralded Liberty offseason acquisition Betnijah Laney scored 30 points against her former team, while Kelsey Mitchell (23 points) and Teaira McCowan (22 points, 16 rebounds) played well for Indiana.

Home-and-home series aren’t particularly common in the WNBA regular season, so both Indiana and New York will get a valuable opportunity to make the kind of on-the-fly adjustments typically needed in a postseason series.

The Liberty will get sharpshooting wing Rebecca Allen back. Though we don’t know if she’ll play on Sunday, the activation of Allen’s contract meant that the team had to waive forward Joyner Holmes, so New York will be even thinner up front (the team is already lacking Natasha Howard and Kiah Stokes, whose contracts have been temporarily suspended in light of their respective overseas commitments) against a group of Fever bigs that did severe damage on the boards last Friday.

The Mercury are also coming off a close victory in their opener, though “last-second” is not to be taken quite as literally in this instance. Diana Taurasi hit what would be the go-ahead, game-winning bucket against the Minnesota Lynx, though a shot clock snafu raised the question of how much time was actually remaining in the game and led to a lengthy video review. Ultimately, the damper this controversy put on the game itself was of no concern to the Mercury, who defeated Minnesota 77-75 in one of the stranger WNBA finishes in recent memory.

Phoenix’s Sunday opponent, the Sun, had arguably the most impressive opening-day performance of any WNBA team, defeating the Atlanta Dream 78-67. Jonquel Jones wasted little time getting back on track after sitting out the 2020 season, scoring 26 points to lead all scorers, while the Sun as a team outrebounded the Dream 42-26.

The impending battle between Jones and Mercury center Brittney Griner is sure to appease fans of old-school, paint-dominated basketball. Meanwhile, former Mercury star DeWanna Bonner will take the floor in Uncasville for the first time; we’ll see if she has any extra motivation facing the team she played for from 2009 through 2019.

Game information

New York Liberty (1-0) vs. Indiana Fever (0-1)

When: Sunday, May 16 at 2 p.m. ET

Where: Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indiana, IN

How to watch: CBS Sports Network

Liberty injury report: Natasha Howard (contract suspended; partial season), Kiah Stokes (contract suspended; partial season), Leaonna Odom (questionable; Achilles), Jocelyn Willoughby (out for season; Achilles)

Fever injury report: Lauren Cox (out; knee); Aaliyah Wilson (out; foot)

Keys to the matchup: The Fever outrebounded the Liberty by a whopping 45-28 margin on Friday and with Howard and Stokes still not with New York, Indiana is going to continue to have a significant advantage on the glass. The Liberty, on the other hand, shot 13-for-26 on 3-pointers in the opener. Unless Fever center Teaira McCowan gets into foul trouble, there’s little chance the Liberty are going to keep her off the boards, so staying hot from behind the arc will once again need to be their equalizer.

Phoenix Mercury (1-0) vs. Connecticut Sun (1-0)

When: Sunday, May 16 at 7 p.m. ET

Where: Mohegan Sun Arena, Uncasville, CT

How to watch: CBS Sports Network

Mercury injury report: Kia Vaughn (contract suspended; partial season), Bria Hartley (out; ACL rehab)

Sun injury report: Jasmine Thomas (contract suspended; partial season), Alyssa Thomas (out for season; Achilles)

Keys to the matchup: Both Brittney Griner (Mercury) and Jonquel Jones (Sun) are off to strong starts for their respective teams, and they’ll be the centers of attention in this matchup between two large frontcourts. In the backcourt, however, Phoenix figures to have a significant offensive advantage, with Diana Taurasi and Skylar Diggins-Smith forming one of the WNBA’s highest-scoring pairs of guards. The Mercury also got double-figure scoring efforts out of each one of their starters on Friday, while Connecticut will probably be leaning on Jones and DeWanna Bonner to do most of the scoring this season. They’ll both need to have big games to overcome the Mercury’s balanced attack.