After a surprising 78-63 loss at home in Game 1, Game 2 is almost a must-win for the No. 2 seed New York Liberty, as losing the first two home games of their semifinal series against the No. 3 seed Connecticut Sun would be nearly disastrous for the one of the WNBA’s super teams and assumed finalists. Expect the Liberty to come out fighting on Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN.
Here's what both teams need to do to put themselves in a position for a win:
Is the Sun setting in New York?
She ain’t new here. pic.twitter.com/NZerH5Rk4D— Connecticut Sun (@ConnecticutSun) September 24, 2023
In Game 1, Connecticut focused on their strengths and executed the game plan to perfection. It was a slower, physical game, which advantaged Connecticut's physical style and size over the fast-paced New York offense. DeWanna Bonner was sensational, scoring 20 points and grabbing eight rebounds as the rest of the Sun core shined with four players scoring in double figures. Natisha Heideman more than held her own on both sides of the ball, scoring 12 points and shockingly blocking a Breanna Stewart layup. Coming off the bench, Olivia Nelson-Ododa gave great defensive minutes while going 2-for-2 from the field, grabbing three boards and forcing two steals. New York had their moments, but Bonner and company would come up with a key basket or force a turnover anytime the Liberty threatened to come back into the game.
With Connecticut's impressive performance, you’d imagine they'd like to "run it back" for Game 2. Still, things can always be better. With the Liberty certain to make some adjustments, you have to try to be just a bit sharper to offset your opponent's reaction. For the Sun, foul trouble has to stay in check. Tiffany Hayes had to miss significant minutes in the second half due to drawing a fifth foul when the game still was hanging in the balance; it put Connecticut in jeopardy of losing. We have no idea how Game 2 will be officiated, but, with the Sun only playing eight players, they'll have to be smart and balance playing physical without drawing fouls.
The time is now for New York
This is it. We've talked about the Liberty as a super team, sang the praises of Breanna Stewart as a MVP candidate and discussed how Sabrina Ionescu has somehow gotten better as a shooter. It won't mean a thing if they don't win a ring. New York needs a statement win in Game 2, evening the series and repositioning themselves to push for the franchise’s first championship.
Ionescu will have to shoot better than the 4-for-14 she shot in Game 1. Connecticut made it a mission to disrupt her as much as possible. The Sun were being super physical with Ionescu, with much of the contact happening off ball. It seems that the goal was not to allow the ball to even reach her. When she did have it, Connecticut made sure it is as far out as possible and sent help immediately. Ionescu will have to find a way to fight through the physicality and get better looks in Game 2.
Paging Betnijah Laney to the semifinals. Is she there? Because she was a no-show on Sunday. Normally, Laney is a very good player who fits into her role, scores in double digits and gets a few rebounds and assists. The Sun bigs made Laney irrelevant. She was 1-for-9 from the field, had three turnovers and was a subway turnstile on defense, allowing Connecticut to dominate inside. New York doesn't need a monster game from Laney, but she has to at least reach her season averages. Laney should continue to get good looks as the Sun over-defend Stewart and Ionescu; she has to capitalize on those opportunities.
The good news for the Liberty is that they are at home, are an elite team and are still expected to win. You can't fake desperation and we should see the Liberty playing with urgency, aggression and focus. With players like Ionescu, Stewart, Courtney Vandersloot, and Jonquel Jones locked in, don't be surprised if New York comes out on a blazing start and cruises to victory.
Still, the Sun should never be counted out. People quit on them last season against the Chicago Sky before they eliminated the defending champs and reached the Finals. People thought this would be more of a rebuilding season and they finished third in the standings. People thought New York would win Game 1 only for Connecticut to steal homecourt advantage. To beat the Sun, you have to play a complete, disciplined game for four quarters; let's see if New York has what it takes to get it done.
Connecticut Sun (1-0) vs. New York Liberty (0-1)
When: Tuesday, Sep. 26 at 8 p.m. ET
Where: Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY
How to watch: ESPN
Sun injury report: Brionna Jones (out; Achilles) Bernadett Határ (out; knee)
Liberty injury report: Han Xu (out; not with team)