Liberty

Liberty Have Numerous Ways to Light Lamp in Second Half

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With Wednesday’s 95-87 overtime victory over the Indiana Fever, the New York Liberty clinched a spot in the Commissioner’s Cup Game on August 15.

The championship game will mark the third meeting between the Liberty and the defending Commissioner’s Cup and WNBA-champion Las Vegas Aces this season. On June 29 in Vegas, the Aces walloped New York 98-81. The two franchises will face off in Brooklyn on August 6, and then twice more after the Commissioner’s Cup.

All season long, fans and media members have ranked these two squads at the top of the league. They each check a lot of boxes: multiple superstars, experienced coaches and a lot of lineup options. Many predict we’ll see these two powerhouses square off in the WNBA Finals at the end of the season.

Still, the Aces have clearly established themselves as the better team. They have a better record (LV 19-2, NY 14-4), a better offensive rating (LV 114.7, NY 106.5) and a better defensive rating (LV 95.6, NY 98.9). Vegas will be the favorite to win the Commissioner’s Cup and will surely be the favorite for the WNBA title. 

So, what can the Liberty do to compete with Vegas?

Eliminate 4th-Quarter Woes

Perhaps most importantly, New York will need to execute better at the end of games. For instance, they blew a 20-point lead to the Fever on Wednesday, allowing Indiana to force overtime. Unfortunately, this wasn’t a one-time occurrence.

“I think we have to look in the mirror as individuals and as a team and realize that now it’s happened a few times too many,” said Jonquel Jones after the game, “and understanding that we have to be better after the break.”

Here’s a look at some 4th quarter stats for the Liberty, and where they rank in the league:

  • Net Rating: -8.0 (11th)
  • FG%: 40.4% (10th)
  • Opponent FG%: 45.4% (12th)
  • Opponent Scoring: 20.9 points (11th)
  • Turnovers: 4.4 (12th)

Situational basketball wins games. Thus, New York needs to improve their late-game execution if they want any shot at winning a title.

Jonesing for Some Jones

The key factor to a successful second half of the regular season? Jonquel Jones

Jones has yet to post a 20+ point performance in any game this year. Over her previous two seasons, she scored 20+ in 19 different games in the regular season. And it’s not just her scoring that’s down; this is a down year in most major stat categories for the former MVP.

There’s a perfectly reasonable explanation for this: Jones’ usage is down. She plays with multiple ball-dominant superstars— it’s expected that fewer opportunities mean lower numbers.

But the Liberty didn’t bring Jones in to be a fourth option. A Jones and Breanna Stewart frontcourt is scary for other teams because either one (or both) could have a stellar game on any night.

Luckily, Jones’ efficiency has been really good. In fact, her FG% and 3P% are both higher than any season she’s had since 2018. Clearly, the solution here is getting Jones more involved on offense.

Calling for Backup

Although the Liberty hold a few advantages over the Aces — like rebounding and ball movement — the Aces are in a class by themselves when it comes to scoring.

So where can the Liberty make up some ground in a potential shootout with Las Vegas? Bench scoring. 

The Aces rank 11th in the league in this category. Conversely, the Liberty rank 10th. There’s simply no competing with Vegas’ starters. So, to keep up with Vegas’ offensive barrage, New York will need to win the bench minutes. 

There have been some bright spots for New York’s second unit. Kayla Thornton, who came over in the Jones trade from Dallas, has proven to be a reliable player off the bench. Nyara Sabally has shown flashes of real talent. Marine Johannes came out strong at the beginning of the year, though she has struggled of late. Stefanie Dolson and Han Xu have each missed time due to injury or other commitments. 

Maybe there’s a trade that can be made to add more depth to the roster. Maybe Jocelyn Willoughby or Sabally can take a big jump before the season is over. No matter how it happens, the Liberty need a dependable bench unit to keep them afloat when their stars are getting rest.

The Second Half

After Wednesday’s game, Sabrina Ionescu talked about the road ahead.

“We’re playing for a championship and not just playing to get by,” she said. “I’m excited for the second half to see our growth in comparison to the first half. To see how we can get better, to push and make a playoff run.”

There’s no guarantee that the Liberty and the Aces will meet in October’s Finals. But these next few matchups, including a high-leverage championship game, will tell us a lot about how far apart these two teams really are.

All statistics courtesy of basketball-reference.com and WNBA.com

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