Sabrina Ionescu, the first overall pick in the 2020 WNBA Draft, suffered a season-ending ankle injury in the third game of her rookie season. So in a way, the point guard really is kind of new to the Liberty.
But in the final seconds Friday night, she was her old self.
Ionescu nailed a tiebreaking three-pointer from the left side with four-tenths of a second remaining, giving the Liberty a 90-87 win over the Indiana Fever at Barclays Center in the WNBA’s season opener.
"I dreamed about it last night," said Ionescu, wearing a Kobe Bryant No. 8 Lakers jersey. "I 100% had envisioned hitting a game-winner."
Kelsey Mitchell (23 points) hit a jumper to give Indiana an 86-82 lead with 47 seconds left. Ionescu nailed a three-pointer to cut it to 86-85, and after Mitchell hit a foul shot, Ionescu went 2-for-2 at the line to tie it at 87 with 21.8 seconds left.
Mitchell turned it over with 5.8 seconds remaining, and the Liberty called for time. Off the inbounds play, Ionescu sank her fourth three-pointer.
"We see it every day in practice," coach Walt Hopkins said. "But those big-time situations are where she shines. It’s what she lives for."
In her first game since July 31, 2020, Ionescu shot 7-for-18 from the floor but had 25 points, 11 assists and six rebounds.
Betnijah Laney stood out, too, scoring 30 points. The Liberty clearly improved by signing 2020’s Most Improved Player away from Atlanta.
"I’m just happy I’m playing under someone who believes in me, " the forward/guard said of Hopkins.
First-round forward Michaela Onyenwere opened at power forward and contributed 18 points for the Liberty.
Teaira McCowan, the Fever’s 6-7 force inside, scored 22 points and grabbed 16 rebounds.
By halftime, Laney had nailed four three-pointers and scored 20 points in a 47-47 game. The Liberty led 68-64 after three quarters.
They ended up getting outscored 50-26 in the paint and getting outrebounded 45-28 — including 19-3 on the offensive glass — but still won, thanks to Ionescu.
This is the 25th season of Liberty basketball, but this game against Indiana was the start of a whole new era.
It marked the opening of their full-time residency at Barclays Center. It also marked the debut of a few of the talented players the Liberty have acquired. They join a handful of returning WNBA sophomores who were on 2020’s 2-20 team in the Florida "Wubble."
In essence, this also marked the beginning of the Ionescu era because of her injury last season, and the former Oregon superstar — the only player in NCAA Division I men’s or women’s basketball history with at least 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 1,000 assists in a career — got it started in fine fashion.