The Liberty are in the middle of a traffic jam in the WNBA standings, sitting in gridlock among six teams within three games of each other for the final four playoff passes.
A 10-game sprint to the finish line began for the Liberty Wednesday night at Barclays Center. They tipped off a five-game homestand with the first of two straight against the defending champs from Seattle.
The Storm rested two of their gold-medal winners from the Tokyo Games. Sue Bird, the 40-year-old point guard from Syosset, and Olympic MVP Breanna Stewart sat out for the second straight game. They’re due back for Friday night’s rematch. So the Liberty, standing seventh in their bid to make the eight-team postseason field, really needed this one.
Walt Hopkins told his players at shootaround, ‘This is a must-win game,’ and the Liberty went out and won, rallying from 15 points down late in the third to claim an 83-79 victory.
Betnijah Laney scored 17, the final two on a tiebreaking jumper with 17.6 seconds left, and added eight rebounds and seven assists. Rebecca Allen made five threes and also scored 17. The Liberty (11-12) survived a career-high-tying 35 by Seattle’s third Olympian, Jewell Loyd, who poured in 21 in the third and zero thereafter.
"This would’ve been tough to recover from," Hopkins said. "… I think it keeps us alive in the playoff race."
Sabrina Ionescu contributed 10 points, eight rebounds and five assists. Before the Olympic break, the point guard was playing despite more issues with her troublesome left ankle.
"No, I’m not the same yet, still grinding through it," Ionescu said. "But no one is. Everyone’s beat up."
Seattle (16-7) led 79-74 before Allen made a three, and Natasha Howard hit from in close to tie it against her old team.
Laney canned a 17-footer from straightaway to untie it. Sami Whitcomb, also facing her old team, drained two free throws with 2.6 on the clock to clinch it.
Seattle had led 72-57 on a Loyd free throw with 1:24 left in the third. Then came a 13-0 Liberty run. Rookie DiDi Richards, who scored a career-high nine, hit a jumper and Allen drilled a three, and the deficit was 72-70. The Liberty had momentum.
In the third, Loyd had momentum. The 5-10 guard opened with a three, giving Seattle a 44-42 edge, a sign of things to come. During one stretch in the period, she went on a 9-0 run. But Richards helped shut her out in the fourth.
"We don’t win this game without DiDi," Hopkins said. "… Tonight was her first coming-out party."