A sold-out Barclays Center witnessed as Breanna Stewart was awarded the WNBA MVP award on Tuesday, Sept. 26. While it was the second MVP under her belt, Stewart became the first member of the New York Liberty to win the prestigious award -- claiming victory in this season's tight race.
"Unbelievable reception from the crowd," Stewart told FanSided. "The way they just continue to have mine and the team's back throughout this process is what helps us. It gives us the sixth-man type of vibe. We knew that last game, they were just waiting to erupt. We could never get the energy to do that and we wanted to make sure we did that today."
The Liberty looked to bounce back following a 78-63 loss in Game 1 of their semifinal series with the Connecticut Sun. At the end of 40 minutes, the Liberty successfully tied the series with an 84-77 win.
But the win did not come easy as the Sun, in multiple moments, looked like what the Liberty are on a good day. Meanwhile, the hosts looked like deer in the headlights, especially in the first half.
Despite Jonquel Jones anchoring the Liberty in the opening period, the Sun took the lead with less than a minute remaining and held tight until the intermission.
But Connecticut's narrow 42-38 lead became vulnerable in the second half. Relentless pressure from both teams on both ends made for a physical game. After two ties in the third, the Liberty comfortably gripped the wheel and pressed the gas. A late surge from Bethnijah Laney, who went 5/7 from three-point territory, was the nail in the coffin.
"For us, it felt like a do-or-die situation," Jones said postgame. "We felt like we needed to give the fans something to cheer about, play New York Liberty-style basketball. The film doesn't lie. They were able to expose us in a lot of ways [in Game 1]. Our pace was not the pace that was conducive for us to win. There were plenty of ways that we could have been better."
Jones scored the Libery's first seven points before the half-hour-long tug-of-war began. At the end of the game, all five Liberty starters registered double-digits in points. Courtney Vandersloot, Laney, and Sabrina Ionescu scored 19, 20, and 21 points, respectively. Meanwhile, Jones and Stewart clocked in double-doubles, both scoring 11 points with 13 and 11 rebounds a piece.
On the other hand, the Sun rallied behind Tiffany Hayes' 30 points and DeWanna Bonner's 19.
"[It's about] understanding what's at stake," Liberty head coach Sandy Brondello stated following the win. "We knew we had to win this game, we're just pushing each other. You could see a really connected team today regardless of if we made some mistakes. We had a hard time guarding Tiffany Hayes, this (Connecticut) is a tough team."
Games 3 and 4 of the best-of-five series will shift to the Mohegan Sun Arena in Connecticut as the Liberty try to close the series away from home. These games are scheduled for Sept. 29 and Oct. 1, with Game 5 set for at Barclays Center on Oct. 3 if necessary.
"We didn't wanna lose," Brondello added. "We weren't happy with our last game. This is what professionals do. They prepare in the best way, they come out and fight. We had to fight for 40 minutes, but we got the win and now we go to Connecticut and hopefully win some there."