After losing their final regular season game at home to the Washington Mystics by a two-point margin on Sunday, the New York Liberty quickly got their rematch to open the first round of their WNBA Playoffs campaign. On Friday, Sept. 15, the Liberty hosted the Mystics again and collected their first postseason win at home since 2015.
Sabrina Ionescu's seventh 3-point shot of the evening (her sixth in the second half) was the nail in the coffin. Following the 29-foot dagger, the remaining 23 seconds paraded the Liberty to a 90-75 victory.
On a slow-scoring evening for Breanna Stewart (10 points), the rest of the Liberty cast shifted to high gears. Ionescu, Jonquel Jones, and Betnijah Laney punched in 29, 20, and 19 points, respectively. The team also combined for 43 rebounds and 18 assists.
New York Liberty win Game 1: Players credit defense in defending home-court
Despite a stellar offensive performance, Ionescu credited the win to their rebounding and defense.
"That was the main difference -- defensive intensity and rebounding," Ionescu said post-game.
The Liberty's pressure on defense led to six steals and nine blocks.
"Everyone was playing well," Ionescu said. "B (Laney) was shooting threes in transition. JJ (Jones) was establishing herself inside [and] I knew that as everybody continued to play well, I had an opportunity to come and knock down shots. I was just in that zone, locked in. The basket felt really big when I was shooting. To win this first game at home is huge for this crowd and what they meant for us all season long."
The role of the Barclays Center crowd became an underlying theme post-game. The atmosphere crystalized how winning was just as important for the fans as it was for the team. And while the fans praised the team for their performance, these sentiments were anything but one-sided.
"Tonight they were rowdy, electric, and continued to give us the motivation that we needed. We want to continue to play our best basketball at home," Ionescu added.
The Liberty have a chance to close out the series on Tuesday. With momentum and location on their side, playing for each other and their dedicated fanbase was continuously emphasized.
"Having a crowd like it was tonight continues to give us confidence," Stewart stated. "No matter the highs and lows in the game, they continue to have our back, and that's the beauty behind it. They're the ones who will continue to give us momentum. When they show out like they did tonight, it's hard for other teams to come in."
"[It's about] taking care of home court," Liberty head coach Sandy Brondello said. "The crowd was fantastic and that's our homecourt advantage there. We want to protect our home court. It's the playoffs. I don't have to get them (players) up, they're already up. It's more about our preparation and making sure our mindset is where it needs to be."