Liberty forward Breanna Stewart and guard Sabrina Ionescu react during...

Liberty forward Breanna Stewart and guard Sabrina Ionescu react during a WNBA first-round playoff basketball game against the Mystics at Barclays Center on Friday. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Sabrina Ionescu was sick of hearing about it.

She was sick of hearing how depressing the New York sports scene is, sick of hearing there are no good teams to cheer for, sick of being overlooked as her team began what could very well be a championship run.

So, two hours before her team’s 90-75 win over the Washington Mystics in Game 1 of their playoff series, the Liberty guard decided to call out those in their city who will not give her team respect. She backed up her words by hitting a Liberty playoff record seven three-pointers as her team took a 1-0 lead in the best-of-five playoff series.

It was the type of gutty performance under pressure that makes you believe that this Liberty team might have what it takes to win both a championship and the heart of New Yorkers.

“I feel we’re going to let our work do the talking,” said Ionescu, who finished with 29 points. “We will be able to shut up those people on twitter," she said.  “As far as I’m concerned, we’ve been playing the best basketball that’s been played in New York in a very long time. Whether people recognize it or not, they will in the next few weeks. I’m excited to see what they say then.”

Forget about We Got Next, the slogan that was crafted by the league six months before Ionescu was born. She and her teammates feel They Have Now. And the vibe at the Barclays Center certainly backed them up Friday night as the power elite of women’s activist/celebrities — everyone from Billie Jean King to Nobel prize winner Malala Yousafzai — was on hand for the action.

The Liberty, winners of 15 of their last 17 games, now just need seven more wins to become the first basketball team to bring a title to New York since the Nets won the ABA in 1976.

On Thursday, Liberty general manager Jonathan Kolb was named the WNBA Executive of the Year, after a historic offseason in which he acquired 2021 MVP Jonquel Jones in a three-team trade, and signed Breanna Stewart and seven-time WNBA assist leader Courtney Vandersloot as free agents. The three joined forces with 2020 No. 1 draft choiceIonescu and 2021 All-Star Betnijah Laney.

Kolb believes the Liberty are already changing attitudes. He mentioned a tweet earlier in the week where someone talked about the best sporting teams in New York, and forgot to mention the Liberty.

“Everybody let him have it,” Kolb said. “That was cool. That was something where you are seeing change.”

Liberty coach Sandy Brondello believes that most of the noise being made is from those who have never watched a WNBA game.

“I did see the tweets obviously. It’s a bit of ignorance,” she said. “People who have been to these games will obviously tell everyone how great it is. It’s more about breaking down the perception isn’t it. . . I’m not a New Yorker. It’s kind of annoying. We’re used to it but hopefully we will break down the barriers and the perception that goes on with that. And we can continue to grow this great game of ours.”

Of course, the best way to grow the game would be if the postseason culminated in a clash of the league's two superteams, the Liberty and the Las Vegas Aces.  The Aces finished the year with two more wins than the Liberty. While the teams split their four regular-season meetings, the Liberty won a fifth game — the final of the new Commissioner's Cup — and has been the hotter team down the stretch.

Ionescu said she has been waiting for this moment since she was drafted and she talked about how great it was to see a fired  up crowd at the Barclays Center.

“We are New York basketball and we are the strong women who are going to come out and compete and bring a championship to New York City,” she said after the game. “Super thankful to all the fans.”

Win a championship, and win over a city.


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