UNCASVILLE, Conn. — The first quarter was like no other in Liberty postseason history. Maybe it wasn’t postcard-perfect on the floor of Mohegan Sun Arena, but it sure seemed close.
The Liberty scored 37 points against Connecticut in those 10 minutes Friday night in Game 3 of their WNBA semifinal series, their most in a quarter of playoff basketball. The lead sat at 21.
The Sun expended a great deal of energy in trying to bounce back, but they couldn’t fully recover from that start against a great team. Unfortunately for them, they somehow were deficient in energy at the beginning of this pivotal game on their home court.
So after taking a two-games-to-one edge with their 92-81 win, the Liberty will show up for Game 4 on Sunday at this same court standing on the doorstep of the expectations from Day One — a New York-Las Vegas clash for the championship.
One win away.
That would put the Liberty in the WNBA Finals for the first time since 2002, when they fell for the fourth time in four tries in the title round.
The Liberty want to avoid a sweaty night in Brooklyn on Tuesday — a win-or-else Game 5 — but they will be facing a desperate Sun team in Game 4.
So what can they expect from Connecticut? Probably the intensity level being turned way up at the start.
The Sun missed Rebecca Allen, who wasn’t feeling well, but coach Stephanie White also decried their energy output in the first quarter, calling it “really poor.” They shot 41.2% and allowed 65.2% accuracy by the Liberty in the period.
“Look, our group is capable,” White said. “It’s unacceptable the way we started the game. There’s no doubt about it. And that’s on all of us.”
Another start like that could be fatal to their comeback hopes.
“First things first, we have to come out a lot better,” guard Tyasha Harris said. “Don’t spot them 20 points in the first quarter. I know that through the rest of the game we outscored them by 10. So [it’s] not spotting them [a big lead] and coming out with a bang in the first quarter, and we’ll just see where it gets us.”
The Sun got the margin down to nine late in the third quarter but fell back by as many as 19 in the fourth.
So the Liberty will be shooting for consistency across four quarters.
They also will be shooting to make more easy baskets as well as three-pointers after going 9-for-26.
“This game wouldn’t have been close if we made some of the missed layups and open threes here,” coach Sandy Brondello said.
Breanna Stewart got her shot on target again, going 11-for-19 after making 27.8% of her tries in the first four postseason games. She went 3-for-13 in Game 2.
“She’s the MVP,” Brondello said. “The MVP’s not going to miss too many shots when she gets locked in. But even when she’s missing in the last game, it’s not all about scoring for Stewie.”
Betnijah Laney’s scoring certainly has been helpful in the Liberty winning the last two after she contributed only three points in the Game 1 loss. She delivered 20 in both Games 2 and 3.
“We go,” Sabrina Ionescu said, “as she goes.”