And things were going so well for the Liberty . . .
They defeated Las Vegas on Monday at Barclays Center and pulled to within 1 1⁄2 games of the Aces in the race for the top seed and home-court advantage throughout the playoffs.
Then came Thursday.
Las Vegas beat Washington to make it a two-game lead. The Aces have three left, one vs. Seattle and two vs. Phoenix, the bottom two in the standings. So unless there’s an upset, it appears hard for the Liberty to catch Vegas now.
Also, Sabrina Ionescu showed up on the Liberty’s injury report for Friday night’s home game against Connecticut as questionable with a right calf issue. And she indeed sat out.
But the Liberty hope to have her back Sunday at Chicago. They don’t sound worried about the No. 1 seed possibly getting away. And they continue to play exceptionally well.
They trounced the Sun, 89-58, to clinch at least the second seed, good for home-court advantage through the first two rounds, and cut Vegas’ lead to 1 1⁄2 games again. So things are still going fine in their world.
“Just the growth, the experience, the way we kind of lock in and realize that every moment matters is something you see on championship teams,” Breanna Stewart said after a 14-point, 10-rebound, seven-assist effort.
The Liberty (29-7), who have won five straight and have four games remaining, finished with five double-figure scorers. They were topped by Betnijah Laney with 19. Marine Johannes, who started for Ionescu, added 18.
The Liberty went 3-2 against Las Vegas, including a victory in the Commissioner’s Cup championship game at Vegas. So Kayla Thornton wasn’t sweating over having to win a game out there should the teams meet in the Finals.
“We’ve already accomplished that once,” said the reserve forward, who received a two-year contract extension Friday that runs through 2025. “So that’s nothing major for us that we have to worry about.”
The Sun (25-12), who were on the back end of a back-to-back and looked it, were led by Tiffany Hayes’ 11 points. They will be the third seed.
And all the talk about the Liberty and the Aces being on a collision course for the title?
“I don’t really think that we care,” Connecticut guard Natisha Hiedeman said. “ . . . There’s always been people doubting us, so I feel we’re just used to it.”
The Liberty swept the Sun in the season series, 4-0.
They took a 27-16 lead after one quarter. Laney scored 10, including a straight-on three-pointer with less than a second left.
The Liberty quickly opened it up to 15 in the second quarter. Later in the period, the flashy Johannes whipped a nifty no-look pass to Laney for a layup after the lead had slipped to 10.
By halftime, the advantage was 49-32, and the margin moved to 24 after three.
The Liberty shot 54.8%, allowed just 33.3% shooting and forced 17 turnovers.
“We executed extremely well,” coach Sandy Brondello said. “I mean, it’s not often you keep a team to 58 points.”
Notes & quotes: Thornton was thrilled over receiving her extension, saying, “It’s just a blessing to even be wanted. New York is something special . . . To even have that offer, that’s something I couldn’t turn down.” The Liberty had long coveted Thornton before acquiring her from Dallas in the three-way January trade that brought Jonquel Jones from Connecticut. Thornton was averaging 4.7 points, 3.5 rebounds and 44.4% shooting heading into this latest game. She always provides tough defense. General manager Jonathan Kolb said in a statement that Thornton “has exceeded the standards of resilience, physicality, consistency and character that embodies the New York Liberty.” . . . The Liberty held All-Star forward Alyssa Thomas to eight points.