Sabrina Ionescu of the Liberty, right, gets pressured by Aari McDonald...

Sabrina Ionescu of the Liberty, right, gets pressured by Aari McDonald of the Los Angeles Sparks during the second quarter of a WNBA game at Barclays Center on Thursday, June 20, 2024. Credit: James Escher

The Liberty had finally stumbled, falling at Phoenix Tuesday night to bring their impressive eight-game winning run to a sudden conclusion.

They took a red-eye back and took a shot at starting another streak Thursday night. The Liberty were playing the first of two games in three days at Barclays Center against a rebuilding Los Angeles Sparks team that just suffered a huge loss with 6-4 Cameron Brink, the second overall pick in the draft, tearing an ACL two nights earlier.

But the Liberty were dealing with their own absences, namely starters Betnijah Laney-Hamilton and Courtney Vandersloot and reserve Nyara Sabally, leaving them with just eight players.

Three of them, though, were named Sabrina Ionescu, Jonquel Jones and Breanna Stewart. And the Liberty overcame with a 93-80 win.

Ionescu delivered season-high totals of six threes and 31 points, and dealt nine assists. Jones contributed 22 points, a career-high eight assists and seven rebounds. And Stewart had 17 points.

“Knowing that we had eight players today, nobody was using that as an excuse,” Stewart said. “We were just using that as more motivation to really kind of rally behind one another.”

There was a moment of silence beforehand for Jan Vandersloot, Courtney’s mom, who passed away last weekend following her battle with multiple myeloma.

“We’ve been playing for [Courtney] for a lot of our games now,” Ionescu said.

The Liberty (13-3) have gone the last six games without Vandersloot and the last eight without Sabally due to a back injury. Laney-Hamilton experienced discomfort and swelling in her right knee during this last two-game trip. This was the first game she's missed.

“We’re hoping that it’s nothing too bad,” Liberty coach Sandy Brondello said.

Brink’s injury was really bad.

“ . . . Cam’s presence on the floor is one thing,” Los Angeles coach Curt Miller said, “but she has a positive vibe and a presence about her on a daily basis that brings joy and uplifts our team, certainly something that we will miss.”

Still, the Sparks (4-12) made a run.

The Liberty saw their 19-point cushion in the third shrink to 78-73 with 6:10 left.

The lead sat at six with 2  1⁄2 minutes remaining. Then Leonie Fiebich, who started for Laney-Hamilton — and missed her first six shots — and Ionescu hit from beyond the arc in an 8-2 run that made it 90-78.

“It helps that my teammates trust me and still pass me the ball after I miss four threes,” Fiebich said with a laugh.

The Liberty owned a 43-36 advantage at halftime. Then they were up 60-50. Soon Los Angeles, which was paced by Aari McDonald’s 15 points, knocked it down to 60-54.

A crucial stretch followed.

Ionescu nailed a three, then another. Jones made it three straight threes. It turned into a 13-0 run. The Liberty led 73-54 in the final minute of the third.

“I think this group has been pretty resilient,” Stewart said. “ . . . I’m really proud of the way we made it through and didn’t give ourselves any excuses.”



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