The last thing the Liberty wanted to do was to have to travel up to Mohegan Sun and gamble on a comeback from being down two games to none in the best-of-five semifinals against a very good Connecticut team.
A ticket to the WNBA Finals would still be possible. But it would be a heavy challenge.
So Game 2 Tuesday night at Barclays Center looked like this in the Liberty’s eyes:
“For us,” Jonquel Jones said, “it felt like a do-or-die situation.”
The Liberty hadn’t lost two straight games all season. And they still haven’t.
They rallied from a 12-point second-quarter deficit and claimed a crucial 84-77 victory to even the series at one game apiece.
“We knew we had to win this game, to win on our home court,” Liberty coach Sandy Brondello said. “We were just pushing each other. You could see a very connected team today. . . . We didn’t want to lose.”
So it’s on to Game 3 Friday night at Mohegan Sun Arena. Game 4 will also be played there Sunday.
“A tough one, but [I] certainly expect a long series and have expected a long series since the beginning,” Connecticut coach Stephanie White.
The Liberty played some effective zone defense and moved the ball better. The starting five all delivered double-digit scoring.
Sabrina Ionescu paced the Liberty with 21 points. Betnijah Laney nailed two of her five threes in the final 4:07 and finished with 20. Courtney Vandersloot added 19. Jones posted her fourth double-double in four postseason games with 11 points and 13 rebounds.
And Breanna Stewart, who was named MVP for the second time earlier in the day, had 11 points, 11 rebounds, five assists and five blocks.
Tiffany Hayes topped Connecticut with 30 points. DeWanna Bonner had 19. Alyssa Thomas, the runner-up in the MVP voting, shot 2-for-13 and had 10 points, nine assists and eight rebounds.
The Sun were very upset about Thomas losing in the MVP vote.
“What Alyssa did this season was unbelievable,” said Bonner, who’s Thomas’s fiancee. “So of course the news was emotional. That was tough for her, tough for our team. But we came out and we played for her tonight. We didn’t get the win. We’re going to continue to play for her.”
The Liberty opened a 67-60 lead early in the fourth after Laney made a steal and turned it into a three-point play. Hayes countered with a baseline jumper. But Vandersloot drained an 18-footer, and then Stewart nailed a three from 28 feet away — 72-62, 7:07 left.
After Laney made a three, Bonner had a four-point play to cut it to 75-70. But Vandersloot countered with a drive and Laney swished another three. It was 80-70 with 2:55 remaining.
The Sun cut it to 80-75, but Ionescu then made two free throws and Vandersloot sped down the lane to get the margin up to nine with 36.9 seconds left.
“Everyone made the plays that helped us win this game and did their job,” Ionescu said.
After trailing by four at halftime, the Liberty went on an 11-0 run in the third to go up 56-47.
But by the end of the third, Connecticut had cut the home team’s edge to 59-57.
The Sun also had their moments in the first half. They went on a 23-4 bridging the first and second quarters, good for a 30-18 advantage. The Liberty seemed powerless to stop them. And then the Liberty took off and trailed just 42-38 at the break.
“They’ve got a lot of weapons,” White said, “and it’s tough to contain them all each and every game.”