The New York Liberty are heading to the playoffs in a season where they were once 1-7 after a seven-game losing streak and once 9-17 after a five-game losing streak. On the day they fell to 9-17, they were 2.5 games out of a playoff spot with 10 games to go.
With an 8-5 stretch to follow up the seven-game losing streak and a 7-3 stretch to close the season after the five-game losing streak, the Liberty have finished 16-20 and will be the No. 7 seed in the playoffs if the Phoenix Mercury lose to the Chicago Sky on Sunday. They will be the No. 8 seed if the Mercury win. As the 7 seed, they would face the Sky in the first round; as the 8 seed, they would face the No. 1 seed Las Vegas Aces.
The Liberty could have gotten in with a loss to the Atlanta Dream on Sunday, but would still be waiting for the result of the Mercury/Sky game right now and would be needing a Mercury win. Instead they won Sunday at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, 87-83, to clinch.
New York was down 79-77 with 3:22 to go after a Monique Billings layup. It had defeated Atlanta by 10 on the road in its previous game on Friday, but was in a much-worse position in this one at home.
The Liberty then turned the ball over on a Sabrina Ionescu offensive foul on their ensuing possession, giving the Dream the opportunity to take a four- or five-point lead. Fortunately for them, Marine Johannès contested an Aari McDonald layup attempt that missed and they got the ball back. Natasha Howard then gave the Liberty the lead by going 3-of-6 at the line over the next 1:07. She could have made things less nerve-racking by shooting better at the stripe, but was the hero on the next score anyway, burying a right-corner three that made it 83-79 New York with 55 seconds to go. That proved to be the shot of the game because although a McDonald layup would cut the Dream’s deficit to two, free throws then iced the win for the Liberty.
Howard finished with a team-high-tying 18 points to go along with nine rebounds and three assists. What a way to cap her All-Star regular season after an injury limited her to 13 games in her debut season with the Liberty (2021). And how about Stefanie Dolson, who has been somewhat of a disappointment in her first year in New York, securing her first double-double of the season with 15 points and 12 boards. She added five assists in what was her first double-digit scoring effort of August. Marine Johannès (four assists) was the third key player for the team as she scored all of her 18 points on a 6-of-8 effort from downtown.
With those three carrying the load, Betnijah Laney only needed to score nine and Sabrina Ionescu only needed to score five. It’s hard to keep Ionescu out of a game completely though, and she did have a team-high seven assists.
This is the Liberty’s second straight playoff appearance. Last year they got in as the 12-20 No. 8 seed and lost a nail-biter to the eventual runner-up Mercury in the first round. In 2020 the team was 2-20. They continue to build in the right direction, but advancing out of the first round this year will be difficult.