TODAY'S PAPER
Good Evening
Good Evening
SportsColumnistsBarbara Barker

Liberty's playoff berth proves they're heading in right direction

New York Liberty guard/forward Betnijah Laney (44) celebrates

New York Liberty guard/forward Betnijah Laney (44) celebrates with teammates after their victory over Seattle at The Barclays Center Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2021. Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan/Joseph D. Sullivan

It seemed impossible.

Four days ago, it appeared as if the Liberty had little or no chance to make the WNBA playoffs.

Heading into their final game of the season, they had lost eight straight games and nine of their last 10 since the Olympic break. Not only did they have to beat Washington on Friday night, but they had to hope the Mystics would lose their final game of the season to Minnesota at home and that Los Angeles would lose to Dallas in a pair of Sunday games.

Maybe the Liberty were due a little luck after all of the injuries to star players they endured in the past two seasons. Or maybe the basketball gods decided to reward them after seeing the way they clamped down on the Mystics in the fourth quarter on Friday.

Whatever the case, everything broke right for the Liberty. As a result, they will make their first postseason appearance since 2017 when they face the Mercury in Phoenix in a one-game playoff at 10 p.m. Thursday.

No, it wasn’t the most elegant way to get to the postseason, but it is tangible proof that the team general manager Jonathan Kolb and coach Walt Hopkins started putting together before last season is making some forward progress. After winning two games last year, the Liberty finished this season with a 12-20 record.

"We took care of business on Friday," Kolb said in a phone interview Monday. "We did everything we could to get in. We had a season that was injury-riddled and had some obstacles to overcome. We could have gone a different direction, but we put together a solid performance in the regular-season finale when they had to."

That performance gives the eighth-seeded Liberty a little confidence as they enter the one-game playoff against the fifth-seeded Mercury.

"It means a lot for us just as a group," Liberty leading scorer Betnijah Laney said in a Zoom call after practice Monday. "To see where we started and where we’ve come to. We haven’t had a lot of the results that we wanted, but we have had a lot of growth. It’s just coming together, playing for one another and building that chemistry. Thankfully, things fell our way, and right now we have this extended season and we can go into [the game] feeling good with everything that has gone on so far.

"For us to be here in this moment playing in the playoffs is really good."

Odds are the Liberty’s playoff season will last one game. There is a big difference between the top five teams in the playoffs and the rest of the league.

The Mercury (19-13) were 2-1 against the Liberty in the regular season. What’s more, Diana Taurasi did not play for Phoenix in the game that the Liberty won, a two-point victory decided in the final minute.

Yet the Liberty beat some pretty big odds just to get here. And in doing so, they may have learned something about themselves.

"I feel really good about how it ended against Washington," Hopkins said after practice Monday. "They had every reason to win that game. It was a playoff game for us. The way we responded, the team accountability. It seemed like our team started to figure something out."

New York Sports