Sabrina Ionescu of the New York Liberty drains a shot...

Sabrina Ionescu of the New York Liberty drains a shot and draws a foul for a three-point play in the second quarter of the Liberty's season opener against the Connecticut Sun at Barclays Center on Saturday. Credit: James Escher

It was opening night at Barclays Center, the tipoff of the Sandy Brondello era for the Liberty. Connecticut didn’t seem like the type of opponent to allow for a good first impression, especially with the home team missing a 2021 All-Star and two other key contributors.

But after a slow start, the Liberty turned in a very impressive game against one of the favorites to win the WNBA championship.

They sweated out the finish, ending a nine-game skid against the Sun with an 81-79 victory Saturday behind 25 points from Sabrina Ionescu, 16 from Natasha Howard and 15 from Sami Whitcomb.

So the new coach is 1-0.

“You’re excited to start a new era and see where you’re at,” Brondello said. “I talked about players being out. We weren’t quite sure what we’d get on the offensive end. I knew what we’d get on the defensive end. I think this team is tough.

“We competed with one of the best teams in the WNBA. We’re both missing players. We had to dig deep. It’s always nice to win your first game, and the fans get to see what we’re trying to do here.”

There were 6,829 fans on hand to see it.

Brondello took over after the two-year Walt Hopkins era ended with a 12-20 record and a one-point first-round loss to Brondello’s Phoenix team.

The playoff berth ended a three-year drought. Phoenix made the playoffs in all of Brondello’s eight seasons in charge, winning the championship in her first and reaching the finals in her last. But her contract wasn’t renewed despite her standing as the 10th-winningest coach in league history.

“She knows what it takes to win at this level, really at any level,” said Whitcomb, who had played for Brondello with the Australian national team. “She can help a place build, and build something that’s lasting.”

Connecticut brought along Alyssa Thomas, who scored 25 points, and 2021 MVP Jonquel Jones, who was largely defended by Howard and held to 15. They were without notable names DeWanna Bonner (overseas commitment) and Courtney Williams (two-game suspension).

The Liberty were minus last season’s leading scorer, All-Star Betnijah Laney (right knee), DiDi Richards (right hamstring) and Rebecca Allen (overseas commitment).

But they had Ionescu, finally healthy after two seasons marked by ankle trouble.

“Super-blessed just to be able to come out of a pretty dark time that I was in physically, mentally, and kind of see the light and see how the work really pays off,” Ionescu said.

The point guard sank a three-pointer from the right wing to give the Liberty the lead for good at 74-73, then drove to make it a three-point game with 2:31 left.

Jasmine Thomas made a free throw for the Sun, but Jocelyn Willoughby countered with a layup for a 78-74 edge.

Willoughby, who scored 13 in her return after missing last season because of a torn Achilles, hit one foul shot with 24.4 seconds left and another at 12.6 to help hold off the Sun. The second one made it 80-76. Whitcomb canned a free throw, and then Jones nailed a three to cut it to two. But it was too late.

“Obviously, it’s a great win for us at home,” Ionescu said. “But I think all of us know it’s such a long season.”

The Liberty trailed 19-12 after one quarter, then outscored Connecticut 26-11 in the second quarter to lead by eight at the break.

They opened it up to 11 twice in the third, but the Sun rallied to go up by five early in the fourth. But the Liberty responded and made a hopeful statement at the start of this new era.

Notes & quotes: The Liberty expect to have Laney back and hope to have Richards back for their next game, Wednesday at Chicago. … Brondello teared up when she was asked about the two BG 42 decals on the floor in honor of her former Phoenix player, Brittney Griner, who’s being detained in Russia. “I love that girl,” Brondello said. “I just hope that she can come home.” . . .  Liberty guard Asia Durr, who prefers to be known now as AD, went scoreless over 5:45 in her first game after missing two seasons due to long-haul COVID-19.