On July 6, the New York Liberty defeated the mighty Las Vegas Aces 116-107, setting a new franchise record for points in a game and receiving a 30-point triple-double from All-Star starter Sabrina Ionescu. They haven't won since.
On July 7, the Liberty were forced to play on little rest and they put up a good fight, but fell to the sub-.500 Phoenix Mercury, 84-81.
Things were far from dire after that loss, with Natasha Howard offering:
We kept fightin’, we didn’t give up. ... Even though we had a game last night we still came out with every bit of positive energy to give to Phoenix. And I feel like everybody did their part on defense and on offense.
It put the Liberty at 9-13 entering the All-Star break and with Rebecca Allen, Jocelyn Willoughby and Betnijah Laney all set to return sometime during the second half, I felt like New York was in a good position to make a run at the playoffs.
Four losses later, the Liberty still have the excuse of not having Laney — their best player from a year ago — but things are starting to look dire. The team is 9-17 and 2.5 games out of a playoff spot with 10 games to go.
New York opened the second half with a game against the Aces and went down 24 at halftime. It made a furious and valiant comeback, but still lost, 107-101. The Liberty then fell apart in their next two games, losing to the Aces 108-74 and to the Connecticut Sun 82-63.
On Thursday, the Liberty led by as much as 13 and as late as the 2:17 mark of the second and trailed by as little as six with 1:34 to go in the fourth, but fell to the Washington Mystics 78-69.
“I thought we competed better than what we had the last few games,” said New York head coach Sandy Brondello. “But the result didn’t go our way, so we just got to hang in there.”
The Mystics, like the Aces and Sun, are a formidable opponent. The Liberty's recent schedule has been brutal and things don’t get any easier with back-to-back games against the defending champion and first-place Chicago Sky coming up. But while losses to these elite teams may be forgivable, some have been ugly and regardless, the team sits in 11th place as it watches its playoff hopes dwindle.
Fortunately, all of the Liberty’s remaining games after the next two against Chicago are against either the Mercury, Los Angeles Sparks, Dallas Wings or Atlanta Dream — four of the five teams they are competing against for the final three playoff spots.
“We’ve got teams who we are competing for those spots who we will be playing,” Brondello said. “So we control our own destiny. So that’s what I say. The next two games, Chicago, you have to go in thinking that you can win. This is the best team, we know we’re capable of playing with them. So it’s getting that confidence back and embracing the grind. I think there’s no better thing as a professional athlete to know that we’re still in it, we’re not out of it. But it’s up to us. And we’re gonna go against teams that we’re gonna try to push out of the playoffs.”
According to Laney’s original timeline of missing eight weeks, she should be ready to play in the second game against the Sky on July 29. A July 4th update on Nets Daily said she was still on scheduled to return in late July and Jackie Powell of The Next tweeted this out on July 17:
Betnijah Laney wasn’t a participant in practice, but following it, she was working out with Liberty assistant coach Roneeka Hodges. There wasn’t hesitation in her movements. She was shooting while bending her knees. She was driving to the basket w confidence. She’s getting there.— Jackie Powell (she/her) (@ClassicJpow) July 17, 2022
Laney had surgery on her right knee on June 1.
In our midseason power rankings, the Liberty tied the Sparks for sixth in voting and we placed them at No. 7 because they had a weaker record than LA. So them falling to 11th place so quickly after those rankings came out has been disappointing to see, but, again, it was against a brutal schedule.
We’ll see if the Liberty can make one final run over this final stretch of the season and salvage Sandy Brondello’s New York debut by making the playoffs. Remember, Brondello was supposed to be an upgrade over Walt Hopkins, who took the team to the playoffs last year, albeit with the worst winning percentage of any playoff team in WNBA history. Brondello should have extra motivation to knock out the Mercury, the team that let her go after she led them to the Finals last year.