The New York Liberty sit alone in last place in winning percentage with a 1-5 record, though the Indiana Fever are actually a half a game behind them. What I’ve been saying with the Fever applies to the Liberty, which is that there are no easy wins in the WNBA. That means the five-game losing streak New York is on could continue and things could get even uglier in the standings even though the Liberty have talented players.
On Tuesday, New York faced a Minnesota Lynx team that is now 2-6 (10th place). The Lynx are 0-4 without Kayla McBride, so many people feel they are actually better than their record indicates. However, I am not one of those people, as I had Minnesota 10th in my power rankings before the season started. I saw this as a winnable game for the Liberty with back-to-back tough ones against the Seattle Storm following it. However, they were without Betnijah Laney (knee injury). Jocelyn Willoughby (knee), DiDi Richards (hamstring) and Lorela Cubaj (concussion protocol) were also out.
The Liberty led for much of the fourth quarter and by as much as eight. But the Lynx took the lead on a Sylvia Fowles layup with 3:15 to go. New York cut it to two with 19 seconds remaining, but it was a two-possession game when it got the ball next and it failed to score again in an 84-78 loss.
The Lynx won points in the paint 38-24 and attempted 33 free throws, 15 more than the Liberty. They shot 81.8 percent at the stripe compared to 72.2 percent for New York.
“It all came down to the free throw line,” said Liberty head coach Sandy Brondello. “We keep talking about all week, ‘We have to rebound, we gotta take care of the ball.’ For the most part we did. ... But it was just fouling. We talked about that too, we gotta have foul discipline. And we’re not. I mean 33 free throw attempts, that’s the ball game, as well as the first quarter.”
In Laney’s absence, Natasha Howard led the Liberty with 23 points to go along with six rebounds. Rebecca Allen added 21 points on a 4-of-8 effort from downtown. Sabrina Ionescu, still looking for her second-career triple-double to move into a four-way tie for the all-time lead, had 10 points, nine boards and seven assists. Ionescu, a point guard, led the team in rebounds and Sami Whitcomb, a shooting guard, led the team in assists with a game-high nine. One other bright spot for New York was the play of Han Xu (11 points, seven boards, two blocks).
“I think she was a little bit nervous going against Sylvia Fowles, that’s one of her heroes. But she has no hesitation,” Brondello said of Xu. “I was really, really proud of her. And she continues to grow and learn and her teammates continue to learn more about her, how effective she can be both inside and outside. She’s getting opportunities, she’s gonna continue to get opportunities, she’s gonna continue to grow. And she’s got a really high ceiling. And she’ll get more comfortable obviously, knowing all these players in the league.”
As mentioned, the Liberty have some tough ones against Seattle coming up, but do get to play the Fever after that. In their first game against Indiana, the came very close to winning, losing in overtime.
“This right here, we had the game in our hand and it was just the little things,” Howard said of the Lynx loss. “We’re fouling and yeah, pretty much just fouling. ... We played really good as a team and we’ve gotta keep building. We in a slump right now, but we gon’ get our way out of it.”