Liberty down Sun in WNBA playoffs Game 3 to take series lead

Alexa Philippou, ESPNSep 29, 2023, 11:19 PM ET

CloseCovers women’s college basketball and the WNBA
Previously covered UConn and the WNBA Connecticut Sun for the Hartford Courant
Stanford graduate and Baltimore native with further experience at the Dallas Morning News, Seattle Times and Cincinnati Enquirer

UNCASVILLE, Conn. — The New York Liberty moved one win away from clinching a spot in the WNBA Finals for the first time since 2002 after defeating the Connecticut Sun 92-81 in Game 3 on Friday night at Mohegan Sun Arena.

Playing in their first semifinal series since 2015, the No. 2 seed Liberty now have two straight wins in the best-of-five series after dropping the opener Sunday at Barclays Center.

Even Game 2 was a tight battle, with Connecticut boasting the momentum early before New York rallied in the second half. But Friday’s Game 3?

“This one tonight put momentum back on our side,” league MVP Breanna Stewart said.

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New York asserted its will in the first 10 minutes, when it outscored the Sun 37-16 and shot 65.2% from the floor. The 37 points in the opening quarter tied a WNBA playoff record (Chicago against Atlanta in 2016; Phoenix against Las Vegas in 2021).

“I think it was huge to really set the tone obviously,” said Stewart, who had her most efficient effort of the playoffs with 25 points on 11-of-19 shooting. “We wanted to run in transition whenever we could, and we were mixing up a few different defenses to make it tough on them, and then whenever we got the ball, we just pushed it.”

Added Sun coach Stephanie White: “I felt like our energy level from the beginning was just really poor for whatever reason. … It’s unacceptable the way that we started the game.”

No. 3 seed Connecticut was without Rebecca Allen, who has started since Brionna Jones went down with a season-ending Achilles injury in June. Allen, known for her 3-point shooting and defense, was unable to play due to a non-COVID illness despite trying to go through pregame warmups.

“When you’re missing a piece like that, what she brings from a basketball perspective, from a size perspective and in the intangibles, it makes a difference, and we had to kind of filter through that, I think,” White said.

New York might have fired on all cylinders in the first quarter, but Connecticut outscored the Liberty by 10 across the final 30 minutes. Late in the third quarter, the Sun cut the deficit to nine points off an Olivia Nelson-Ododa layup before a Stewart putback extended the lead back to double figures entering the fourth, where it stayed for the remainder of the game.

“I’m proud of our group for the second through the fourth quarter, but that’s not good enough when you’re playing for an opportunity to go to the Finals,” White said.

Betnijah Laney had 20 points for the Liberty (12 in the second half), marking the fourth game in the playoffs in which she has scored at least 19.

Sun forward Alyssa Thomas checked out with 2:29 remaining after recording a team-high 23 points, 14 assists and 9 rebounds. Before subbing out, her 197 straight minutes of postseason play was the longest streak in WNBA history, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Frustration seemed to boil over at times for the Sun, on the court with the officiating and on the sideline. Between the first and second quarters, DiJonai Carrington and Nelson-Ododa exchanged words on the bench before the former was separated from the latter by DeWanna Bonner. Carrington did not reenter the game after that.

“We love each other. We’re all sisters. So we talk about it, we come together. That’s pretty much it, honestly,” Tyasha Harris said of the high emotions. “It’s a game of runs, basketball, things get heated, but we still love each other. We’re going to come together and bring a better effort next game.”

Game 4 is at Mohegan Sun Arena on Sunday (3 p.m. ET, ABC).

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