Last season, Sabrina Ionesu and her underdog Liberty squad had a chance to advance into the second round of the WNBA playoffs for the first time since 2017 after stealing a game against the Chicago Sky on the road.
The team couldn’t secure another win and dropped the next two games by an average of 28 points, including a 38-point Game 2 shellacking in Chicago.
This time, the Libs are the favorites. And they have zero intentions of possibly finishing the series in Washington for a decisive Game 3.
“We have another life in knowing that there [could] be a Game 3 but that’s not the mentality we have to have,” Ionescu said to reporters during Monday’s practice at Barclays Center. “Tomorrow we gotta finish it. No ifs, ands or buts. Tomorrow is a game that we have to take care of.”
Finishing the job, however, won’t be an easy task.
Ionescu torched the Mystics for 20 second-half points in Game 1. She finished with 29 points and her seven made three-pointers, a franchise postseason record, eventually led to the comfortable 90-75 victory at Barclays Center.
The sharpshooting will also lead to adjustments from one of the league’s best perimeter defenders on Washington’s side.
Natasha Cloud, who was awarded First-Team All Defensive Team last season, said she’s guarding Ionescu for 40 minutes on Tuesday, according to Washington Post’s Kareem Copeland. Cloud added that the team’s defense against the Liberty was “lazy,” and the film tape was “humbling.”
In Game 1, the Liberty shot 44% from the field and 35% from downtown (12-34). The Libs also missed just two of their 14 free throw attempts on Thursday.
“They have a rude awakening for tomorrow,” Cloud said about the Liberty ahead of Game 2.
NEWS AROUND THE W
Las Vegas Aces forward Alysha Clark has been named the 2023 Kia WNBA Sixth Player of the Year, the league announced Monday. To be eligible for the award, a player had to play more games as a reserve than a starter.
Clark received 35 of the 60 possible votes from sportswriters and broadcasters. Connecticut Sun guard DiJonai Carrington finished second with 13 votes and Sky guard Dana Evans of the Chicago Sky was third with nine votes. Liberty guard Marine Johannes, Dallas Wings center Kalani Brown and Seattle Storm guard Sami Whitcomb received one vote each. Forward Kayla Thornton didn’t receive any votes.
Clark gets the award after averaging 6.7 points, 3.4 rebounds and 1.1 assists in 22.5 minutes per game in her 11th season. She shot 44% from the field and 39% from downtown in her 39 games (one start) with the Aces this season.
Aces head coach Becky Hammon has tasked Clark to use her floor spacing and above-average defense for the top-seeded team all season. Clark’s Sixth Player of the Year award adds to a decent resume that includes two championships, a 2020 WNBA All-Defensive First Team selection and a 2019 WNBA All-Defensive Second Team selection.