NEW YORK — With their season on the line, Sabrina Ionescu and Betnijah Laney took over to help New York even their playoff series with Connecticut.
Ionescu scored 21 points and Laney added 20, including a key 3-pointers in the fourth quarter, to help the Liberty beat the Sun, 84-77, on Tuesday night to knot their playoff semifinal series 1-1.
“Understanding what’s at stake. We knew we had to win this game,” Liberty coach Sandy Brondello said. “Win on our home court. you could see a very connected team today.”
Game 3 is Friday night in Connecticut.
New York led, 59-57, to start the fourth quarter before the team went on a 13-5 run to start the period. Breanna Stewart, who was having a rough offensive night hours after she was honored as the WNBA’s MVP, hit her first 3-pointer of the series to cap the spurt and give the Liberty a 72-62 advantage. Stewart had missed her first 11 3-pointers in the opening two games. She finished the game with 11 points, 11 rebounds, 5 assists, and 5 blocks, but missed 10 of her 13 shots from the field.
Connecticut was able to get within striking distance a few times after that, but Laney answered with key 3-pointers. Her second one made it 80-70 with 2:55 left. Laney was coming off a rough Game 1 where she had just 3 points.
The Sun scored 5 straight to make one final push, trailing, 80-75, with 1:43 left before Ionescu hit two free throws and then got a steal on the next possession to seal the win.
“We played within ourselves, battled for 40 minutes and we had to weather the storm,” Ionescu said. “[Laney] hit huge shots for us. [Courtney Vandersloot] hit huge slots for us. Stewie hit a huge one as well. Everyone made the plays that helped us win the game.”
Tiffany Hayes scored 30 points and DeWanna Bonner added 19 to lead Connecticut.
“We came here and got a split, now we have the opportunity to go home,” Connecticut coach Stephanie White said.
The Liberty, who scored a season-low 63 points in Game 1, trailed by 4 at the half before getting going in the third quarter. They were down, 47-45, before scoring 11 straight, including Stewart’s first basket of the game. New York was up, 59-50, with 4:14 left in the third before going scoreless the rest of the period as the Sun cut their deficit to 59-57.
Before the game, Stewart was awarded the league’s MVP trophy by WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert much to the delight of the sellout crowd that included Grammy award winner Alicia Keys. Stewart edged Connecticut’s Alyssa Thomas and Las Vegas’ A’ja Wilson in one of the closest races ever for the award. The entire Liberty team wore MVP Stewart shirts in warmups.
Thomas finished the game with 10 points, 9 assists, and 8 rebounds.
The Liberty were up, 14-7, before Connecticut closed the first quarter on 15-2 run to take a 22-16 advantage. Hayes had 12 points in the opening 10 minutes. The Sun continued that spurt and extended the lead to 30-18 before the Liberty scored 7 straight during a 10-4 run to get in the game.
Stewart scored her first points of the game on two free throws in that burst.
New York got within 37-36 before the Sun led by four at the break behind Hayes’s 17 points and 11 from Bonner.