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2023 Liberty Fell Short, But Still Accomplished Plenty

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“We’re sad,” said Sandy Brondello. “It hurts.” 

When asked about their level of disappointment regarding losing the WNBA Finals, Breanna Stewart replied in one word: “High.” 

Losing sucks. Losing in the Finals might suck even more. That was apparent, as Brondello, Stewart and Courtney Vandersloot choked back tears while talking to the media. The Las Vegas Aces won Game 4 of the WNBA Finals 70-69, clinching a second-straight championship. Vandersloot had a three-point attempt in the waning seconds that would have won the game and forced a Game 5. But the Vegas defense caused just enough havoc to rush the shot and force it wide. 

https://twitter.com/nyliberty/status/1714832783384740166?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw

A heartbreaking loss to end a season can leave a bitter taste in the mouths of everyone involved; but this season was not a failure. Further, in almost every way, this season was a resounding success, and with any luck, New York will be able to build on that success next season.  

“This is what we came here to do,” said Vandersloot, “We’re trying to build a championship team. And so, we’re going to use this as a learning experience. We can only get better from here. You know, [we’ll] try to do it again next year.” 

With the 2023 WNBA season in the books, let’s look back at what went right (and what went wrong) this year in Brooklyn.

Right: Betnijah Laney

In most discussions surrounding this team, fans thought of Laney as the fifth option. But all season long, she proved herself as a consistent player for the team (just as she has been for three seasons in Brooklyn). Even with fewer touches, she upped her scoring average to 12.8 points per game, and her shooting efficiency reached a career high.

In the playoffs, Laney stepped up even more. She averaged 15.2 points on 47% shooting. She usually guarded the best perimeter player on the other team. And she hit timely shots in crucial moments, especially in the semifinals against Connecticut.

https://twitter.com/nyliberty/status/1714822124957847803?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw

Wrong: Playoff Defense

All season long, the Liberty relied on their defense. Their lineups were equally athletic and switchable and full of defensive skill. This allowed them to win games in various ways.

Everyone knows that the playoffs get tougher, but the Liberty defense did not rise to meet the challenge. Guards like Sabrina Ionescu and Marine Johannes struggled on that end of the floor.

In the regular season, the Liberty earned a 99.4 defensive rating. In the playoffs, however, that number jumped to 104.8. In the Finals, it ballooned even further, all the way up to 109.5. Undoubtedly, the Aces can make any team’s defense look bad. But if we’re looking for reasons the Liberty fell short of their goal, their defense in the playoffs is the number one culprit.

Right: Regular-Season Breanna Stewart

When Stewie arrived in New York in February, she brought lofty expectations with her. And from May to September, she was every bit as advertised.

Here are her regular-season accomplishments:

  1. MVP
  2. All-WNBA First Team
  3. All-Defensive First Team
  4. All-Star Captain
  5. Commissioner’s Cup Champion
  6. 2nd in the WNBA in PPG (23.0)
  7. 3rd in the WNBA in RPG (9.3)
  8. 4th in the WNBA in BPG (1.6)
  9. Single Season Franchise Records Set: Points, Rebounds, PER
  10. Most Points Scored in a Single Game in Liberty Franchise History (45)

Wrong: Playoff Breanna Stewart

Stewart still flashed her greatness throughout the playoffs, but she struggled to translate her regular season play to the postseason. Her scoring average dropped by nearly five points. Likewise, her shooting efficiency fell. In fact, she shot under 20% from the three-point line for the playoffs.

She shot under 30% from the field four separate times in the playoffs, including an abysmal 3-for-17 performance in Wednesday’s Game 4.

Despite that, fans shouldn’t be too worried about this; Stewart is one of the most accomplished players in the league, winning championships at every level of basketball she’s ever played at. But she’d be the first to tell you that her play in these playoffs was not up to her standard, and she’ll need to be much better if the Liberty want a shot at the title in the coming years.

Right: A Lot of Other Stuff

The Liberty won the Commissioner’s Cup, a first for the franchise. Barclays Center drew 17,143 fans to Sunday’s Game 3, a league record for attendance. They made their first Finals appearance since 2002 and won their first Finals game since 1999. They also built on a foundation that was established over the last few years, and there is no reason to think they won’t be major contenders again next season.

“It’ll be a hard one to learn from,” Brondello said after the game. “But in the end, I’m proud of this group and what we’ve accomplished…we’ve got to take it as a learning experience now and as we move forward, and remember how it feels and use it as motivation.”

About Jack Levenberg

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