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Liberty bully Sparks en route to their largest margin of victory this season

Sabrina Ionescu followed up her 16-assist performance with 31 points.

Los Angeles Sparks v New York Liberty Photo by Steven Freeman/NBAE via Getty Images

A technical foul called on Sabrina Ionescu Tuesday night at Barclays Center in Brooklyn sparked something in her that led her to score 31 points in a 102-73 New York Liberty annihilation of the Los Angeles Sparks.

The win moved the Liberty (12-18) into a three-way tie with the Sparks and Atlanta Dream for the eighth and final playoff spot. Their next game is also against the Sparks (Wednesday at 7 p.m. ET at Barclays). New York’s final two games of the regular season are against the Dream.

Tuesday night’s game was incredibly physical and the Liberty were more than tough enough to take it on.

“Well, I love it,” Ionescu said of LA’s physicality. “They can try that on me all they want, it usually just feeds into what I like to do best. And so that didn’t work in their favor, but, at the end of the day we got another one tomorrow. And so we have to make sure that that’s the next biggest game that we have coming up, put this one behind us. And we gotta continue to learn form our mistakes, we made plenty of mistakes tonight and we got to continue to make adjustments. We’re not satisfied with the win tonight and I think that says something about this group, we’re not ok with where we are, we want to continue to strive for the greatness we want to achieve.

“The crowd had our back. That game was getting out of hand a little bit, the refs let it get out of hand a little bit. And the crowd just rallied with us and kept us energized through that entire thing. So it’s always fun. We know when we get into those games, when we get into those fights that the crowd’s gonna have our back. And that fires me up, it fires the team up. And so we’re super thankful for that. They’ve brought that all year and so we kind of expect that night in and night out — to have that crowd have our back.”

Ionescu added six rebounds, four assists and three steals in just 23:49.

This after she notched a Liberty-record 16 assists on Sunday. In that game she scored just 10 points and shot 3-of-14 from the field and 1-of-6 from three. On Tuesday, she was 11-of-16 from the field and 5-of-9 from three.

Natasha Howard (24 points, 11 rebounds) and Han Xu (13 points, seven rebounds, eight assists) were the other key players for New York on Tuesday.

Liberty head coach Sandy Brondello was left with a lot of positive things to say about her team.

“I thought Sabrina, she got hit a few times, got a little angry,” she said. “Yeah, I mean the light bulb went on and she was actually big today. I though Tash was fantastic, had the fifth double-double (in a row) to tie the franchise history — that’s great. But you see her dominance on the board now. We didn’t start her on Nneka (Ogwumike), but she finished on Nneka and she made it tough for her. She’s a great defensive (player). We’re pushing the ball, pushing the pace where we can. I think we have a better flow to our offense. But we have to make sure: consistency, now.

“To be quite honest, I see growth in this team. Cuz when someone’s being physical with us, we’ve gone downhill a little bit, we let it rattle us.

“We had a tough July, we played a lot of good teams and we almost won some others that we should have won too. And games like this you kind of see where you’re at. They’re a tired team, LA. They traveled across the country, that’s always hard. And we did the same thing when we played over there, it was tough. So tomorrow will be obviously a new ball game. But I was happy with how we handled the physicality. You know, we started off a bit slow, I wasn’t happy with the way we executed some of the things. Too many easy baskets in the paint early. But I think we’re becoming more resilient and that’s what you want at this time of the year.”

One negative to come out of the game for New York is that Rebecca Allen again suffered a blow to the head.

“It’s always scary when, you know, Bec’s had a few head knocks this year,” Brondello said. “She seems OK. We didn't need to put her back in, so we want to make sure, we’ll see how she is tomorrow. That’s always unfortunate, especially if the same person keeps getting hit. It’s been a tough road for her this year, so it’s frustrating. But hopefully she’ll be OK.”

Brondello pretty much summed it up, but very concerning to see this happen to Allen again. As much as I want to see her get back to playing great basketball, right now I just want her to recover.

Meanwhile, the Liberty should feel good about having won three of their last four, including the last two by 20 and 29 points, respectively. Tuesday marked their largest margin of victory this season and was just the third game they’ve won by 15-plus. The team has started off 2-0 on it’s eight-game conclusion against only teams competing for the final three playoff spots and has done so in impressive fashion.

“I liked how we’re staying together as a team,” Brondello said. “We’re a closed fist. And we’re fighting, we have to fight, because we’re trying to get into the playoffs, just like LA, just like Dallas, just like Atlanta. So every possession matters and that’s what we’re focusing on.”