Liberty forward Breanna Stewart passes the ball away from Mystics...

Liberty forward Breanna Stewart passes the ball away from Mystics forward Tianna Hawkins during the first half at Barclays Center on Tuesday. Credit: Noah K. Murray

Bring it on.

That was the message, in so many words, that the Liberty’s Breanna Stewart had for the Washington Mystics Tuesday before Game 2 of their first-round playoff series tipped off. Stewart, who averaged a career-high 23 points in the regular season, scored just 10 points in the Liberty’s Game 1 win, as the Mystics threw everything in their defensive arsenal at her.

“I think it’s expected,” Stewart said when asked about facing constant switches and traps. “They are going to do whatever they can to make sure I see bodies.”

What Stewart didn’t say is that she was going to do whatever she could to make sure she didn’t have a repeat performance. Stewart showed where her head was early as her 11 points in the first eight minutes topped what she had scored playing a monster 38 minutes in Game 1.

The Mystics were desperate to get the win and take the best-of-three series to another one. Stewart clearly wanted to send a message early that it was not going to be easy. She did that by hitting four of her first six shots, including a three-pointer with 2:54 remaining in the first quarter.

She finished the first half with 15 points and four rebounds, helping the Liberty set the tone of the game by taking a 46-35 lead.

Coach Sandy Brondello was confident in her pregame press conference that Stewart was not going to repeat her struggle.

“I thought she had some really good looks; she just missed them,” Brondello said of Game. 1. “Just have to slow down, make one early. You know, we've got things in play that we can put her in action where we can hopefully free her up. But in the end, we just got to make sure we're just playing the right way and making sure that we're getting great shots every single possession.”

Stewart, the No. 2 scorer in the WNBA in the regular season, was both calm and in good spirits before the game, almost as if she knew it was just a matter of time before she would no longer have to answer question about Game 1.

She said Washington’s defense didn’t really bother her, because she knew that it could create opportunities for others.

“It’s not frustrating because I know in the end someone else is going to be open and continue to make the right plays.” Stewart said. “Like we’ve been saying the whole time, it’s pick and choose. Pick your poison.”

Ah yes, pick your poison. Life is so rough on a super team, especially one with weapons like the ones the Liberty have.

The Liberty, who finished with the second-best record in the league, have scary depth and we are just beginning to see how important that is in the playoffs. When Stewart struggled in Game 1, Sabrina Ionescu torched the Mystics for 29 points while hitting a Liberty record seven three-pointers. Jonquel Jones and Betnijah Laney added 20 and 19 points respectively.

This is why Liberty general manager Jonathan Kolb was named the WNBA Executive of the Year last week. The Liberty had a historic offseason, acquiring 2021 MVP Jones in a three-team trade, and signing Stewart and seven-time WNBA assist leader Courtney Vandersloot as free agents. The three joined forces with 2020 No. 1 draft pick Ionescu and 2021 All-Star Laney.

When you have a team like that, anything short of making the Finals is going to be considered a failure. (See the Nets under Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.) It’s clear that the Liberty know this and wanted to get past their first-round opponent as fast as possible.

Before the game, Washington’s Natasha Cloud had said the Liberty were going to be in for a rude awakening. Though Brondello admitted that her team had talked about that comment, she said they really didn’t need any extra motivation to try to close the series out.

Said Brondello: “If you can’t get up for these games, you’re not going to get up for any….It's just how do we get them going and locked in? We’re locked in. This is the playoffs. We’ve got bigger goals in mind here.”

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