Liberty forward Breanna Stewart (30) controls the ball against Los...

Liberty forward Breanna Stewart (30) controls the ball against Los Angeles Sparks guard Aari McDonald (15) during the third quarter at Barclays Center on Saturday, June 22, 2024. Credit: Brad Penner

The Liberty were down to eight players Saturday, just as they were in Thursday’s opener of this two-game Barclays Center set against the Los Angeles Sparks. But the numbers problem — minus two starters and a key reserve — didn’t add up to a loss.

Of course, the three remaining regular starters are really good. That didn’t hurt. One of the fill-ins had a big second game, too. It also didn’t hurt that the Liberty were facing a rebuilding team.

And so eight indeed was more than enough to win again. The Liberty swept the two games, concluding with a 98-88 victory.

After winning 10 of the last 11, they’re at 14-3, the best start after 17 games in franchise history.

Breanna Stewart equaled her season high with 33 points and matched her career best with six blocks. Sabrina Ionescu delivered 24 points and nine assists. Jonquel Jones scored 14 points and grabbed 13 rebounds, equaling her best total of the season.

And that reserve-turned-fill-in starter, Kayla Thornton, contributed a career-high six three-pointers (in seven tries) and matched her season high with 20 points.

“It shows a lot about our commitment to being the best team we can be and making no excuses with the ones that aren’t here,” coach Sandy Brondello said. “ . . . It’s our role players stepping up when they’re called on.

“But in the end, it’s our big three taking ownership of making sure they’re bringing their best game every single day.”

The Liberty were without Betnijah Laney-Hamilton. The guard/forward missed her second straight game after experiencing swelling and discomfort in her right knee.

Nyara Sabally missed her ninth straight game. The backup center has a back injury.

And Courtney Vandersloot, whose mother died last weekend, missed her seventh straight game. But the point guard returned to the team and worked out on the court before the game.

“We are her family as well,” Brondello said. “We feel for her.”

Los Angeles coach Curt Miller has noticed a difference in the Liberty with their core group in its second season together, saying “the biggest thing I see is just a comfortability, a continuity, a chemistry.”

The Sparks, who fell to 4-13 after losing their sixth straight, chipped a 23-point third-quarter deficit to 81-67 heading into the fourth quarter.

Los Angeles sliced it to 93-83 on Stephanie Talbot’s layup with 3:06 remaining. But Kia Nurse missed a three for L.A. and then Jones hit a jumper in the lane. Ionescu followed with a three for a 98-83 cushion.

“And this New York team has a way of separating in fourth quarters in close games,” Miller said. “They just know how to win at the end of games.”

There were some big swings in the first half. The Liberty went from up nine to down eight to up 10 at halftime at 54-44. Dearica Hamby had 15 of her 20 at that point for the Sparks.

Then Jones and Thornton delivered consecutive threes early in the third to open it up to 60-46. Thornton hit three more threes in the quarter, and the last one made it 75-53.

“Every time it goes up, I know it’s going in because I see it every single day in practice,” Brondello said after her Liberty finished with 16 threes, giving them a WNBA-record 47 for a three-game span.

A short time later, Stewart received a standing ovation from the sellout crowd of 13,639 after flying down the lane to swat away a layup attempt by Talbot.

“The way that the fans reacted,” Stewart said, “it’s amazing to have those type of blocks at home.”

After concluding a back-to-back set Sunday at Atlanta, the Liberty will be “home” Tuesday night for the Commissioner’s Cup championship game against Minnesota. Home will be UBS Arena. Barclays is unavailable with the NBA Draft tipping off the following night.

“It sucks that we’re playing at UBS,” Jones said. “I’m not going to, like, sugarcoat it. We want to be able to play again at Barclays and [have] our home crowd. But ultimately it’s still New York.”



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