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Game 3 Preview: Tied at one game apiece, semifinal series between Liberty and Sun shifts to Connecticut

The WNBA semifinal series between the No. 2 seed New York Liberty and No. 3 seed Connecticut Sun, tied at one game apiece, shifts to Connecticut for a pivotal Game 3.

2023 WNBA Playoffs - Connecticut Sun v New York Liberty
Connecticut Sun forward No. 25 Alyssa Thomas and New York Liberty forward No. 30 Breanna Stewart finished No. 2 and No. 1 in MVP voting, respectively, but both players have struggled shooting the ball thus far in their semifinals matchup.
Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images

The 2023 WNBA playoffs continue this Friday, Sep. 29, when the No. 2 seed New York Liberty and No. 3 seed Connecticut Sun resume their semifinal series. Tied at one win for both the Liberty and Sun, the series now shifts to Connecticut, with Friday’s Game 3 scheduled to tipoff at 7:30 p.m. ET. The game will be broadcast nationally on ESPN2.

After two games in New York, not much has been decided between the Liberty and Sun, with Connecticut using a big second half to win Game 1, 78-63, and New York evening things up in Game 2, 84-77.

For the third-seeded Sun, those results likely are taken as a positive. Connecticut went 0-4 against New York during the regular season, but played much better in the two home games than in the two games in New York. Now, with the series tied, Connecticut has a golden opportunity to take control at Mohegan Sun Arena—a notoriously difficult place for opponents to play, and where the Sun truly performed like they were at home (6.0 net rating, compared to 2.7 net rating on the road).

The Sun also have additional motivation after Alyssa Thomas was narrowly defeated by Breanna Stewart in 2023 Most Valuable Player voting. In one of the closest MVP races in WNBA history, Stewart received 446 points to Thomas’ 439, winning by a minuscule margin despite actually receiving fewer first-place votes.

Incidentally, neither Stewart nor Thomas have been at their best thus far during their semifinal bout, shooting just 26.3 percent and 25.0 percent from the field, respectively. It’s been the other big names dominating the highlight reels. Sun guard Tiffany Hayes led her team with 30 points (12-of-19 shooting from the field) in Game 2, while Betnijah Laney knocked down five of the Liberty’s 10 3-pointers.

WNBA 2023 Playoffs - Washington Mystics v New York Liberty
Betnijah Laney’s sharpshooting was a major factor in the Liberty evening the series in Game 2.
Photo by Evan Yu/NBAE via Getty Images

It should go without saying that whichever team gets its star forward going will have the better chance to win Game 3. But the kind of defense played by both teams makes things more complicated than that. In particular, Connecticut has made life difficult for the WNBA’s second-best regular-season offense, keeping both Stewart and the Liberty’s guards off balance with trademark physicality while also denying the Liberty easy assist opportunities (69.2 percent assist rate after a 75 percent assist rate during the regular season). Expect this to continue in Game 3—the higher the score of the game, the more comfortable the Liberty will be. Connecticut must keep things from entering shootout territory.

Another thing to watch for will be how each team utilizes its bench. Though rotations typically shorten during the playoffs, it’s been a bit surprising to see New York’s Marine Johannès and Connecticut’s DiJonai Carrington fall out of favor with their respective coaches. Guard Tyasha Harris and forward Olivia Nelson-Ododa, on the other hand, both played over 25 minutes off the bench for the Sun in Game 2; the Liberty’s most prolific reserve, forward Kayla Thornton, logged just seven minutes. We’ll see if individual on-court matchups allow for more playing time for these dynamic reserves as New York’s Sandy Brondello and Connecticut’s Stephanie White continue their chess match.

Game information

No. 2 seed New York Liberty (1-1) vs. No. 3 seed Connecticut Sun (1-1)

When: Friday, Sept. 29 at 7:30 p.m. ET

Where: Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, CT

How to watch: ESPN2

Liberty injury report: Han Xu (out; not with team)

Sun injury report: Brionna Jones (out; Achilles)