With 00:46 seconds left in the game, the Liberty were down 86-82. After New York got out to an early lead in the 1st quarter, the Liberty and Fever were neck and neck the whole game. It looked like the game was becoming out of reach for the Liberty after Kelsey Mitchell made back to back buckets to give the Fever a two possession lead with less than a minute left.
However, Sabrina Ionescu had other plans. Seconds after Mitchell’s bucket, Ionescu takes the ball up herself and drains a three-point shot to bring the score to 86-85 with 39 seconds left. The Liberty then foul Mitchell who makes only one of her free throws to put the game 87-85. With 21 seconds left, Ionescu gets fouled and drains both of her free throws to tie the game at 87.
With no shot clock with 21 seconds left in the game, the Fever take their time with their possession. The Fever wanted to take the last shot of this game. Danielle Robinson relaxingly dribbles the ball behind the arc for 10 seconds as the clock winds down. With 8 seconds left in the game, Robinson passes the ball to Kelsey Mitchell.
Mitchell, who was Indiana’s most prolific scorer last season and ended the night with 23 points, had full control over putting the Liberty away with a bucket. Mitchell goes up for a pump fake behind the three-point line, then attempts to dribble to the basket. The refs call Mitchell for traveling, and the Liberty take possession of the ball with 5.8 seconds left in the game.
Ionescu inbounds the ball to center Kylee Shook behind the three point line. With Shook dribbling behind the arc, Ionescu runs to the corner but cuts back to the middle of the court as Shook passes her the ball back and sets a screen. Now with 2 seconds left on the clock, on the run, Ionescu catches the ball and drains a three-pointer from deep to give the Liberty a 90-87 lead with 0.4 seconds left on the clock.
The Liberty bench ran out to celebrate with Ionescu, but Sabrina had the awareness amongst the excitement to shoo the players off the court, as there were still less then a second left. But, at that point, the Fever did not have time to put up a shot and the Liberty secured the victory.
Ionescu’s game-winning shot was so powerful that tectonic plates shifted in downtown Brooklyn, causing a mountain to form with Sabrina at the top looking out onto the boroughs. With the game on the line, Sabrina Ionescu took control of the situation and scored 8 points in the final 46 seconds. In her FOURTH career WNBA game, (after missing most of last season with an ankle sprain), Ionescu demonstrated that she is the most special homegrown basketball player in New York since Patrick Ewing in the late 80s. Sabrina is a star, and the people of New York are going to hear her name a lot over the next few years.
The craziest part is that Sabrina knew this was going to happen. When asked about her game-winning shot, Sabrina said in the postgame press conference:
“I actually had a dream about it last night. I try not to think about basketball too much before the game because I get nervous. But I 100% had a vision hitting the game winner. And when we were tied, I was smiling because it was too good to be true. I’m glad my coaches and team believed in me, and I’m just so happy to get this win.”
Ionescu finished the game with 25 points, 11 assists, and 6 rebounds. She was 4-8 from 3PT and set up shots all night for her teammates with beautiful passes.
While Ionescu down the stretch secured the victory for the Liberty, the team doesn’t win without the performance of new addition Betnijah Laney and rookie Michaela Onyenwere. Laney, the 2020 Most Improved Player Award winner, scored 30 points in her Liberty debut. Laney shot 4-5 from 3PT and overall was 11-18 FG, seemingly never missing a shot. She carried the offense through the first three quarters and was supplemented by Onyenwere, who scored 18 points in her WNBA debut. Onyenwere’s 18 points broke the Liberty’s rookie debut scoring record, after Kia Nurse scored 17 points in her WNBA debut in 2018.
The Liberty are going to win a lot of games when Ionescu and Laney combine for 55 points. The two were setting each other up for shots all night and clearly demonstrated a lot of on the court chemistry for playing their first game together. The Liberty went out last offseason and added talent around Sabrina, and it shows.
New York demonstrated a massive improvement on their three-point shooting from last season. After finishing last in the league shooting 27.7% from behind the arc in 2020, the Liberty made 13-26 3PT shots for 50% shooting to open up 2021. Between Laney, Ionescu, and Onyenwere, they made 11 3PT shots combined.
However, it wasn’t all good. The Liberty just could not get it done on the offensive glass, being out-rebounded 3 to 19. The Liberty were clearly lacking size with new addition Natasha Howard and Kiah Stokes missing opening night because of their overseas commitments. While they did much better with their defensive rebounds (25 compared to the Fever’s 26), their rebounding on the offensive end is a cause for concern.
All in all, the Liberty have to be happy about their opening night performance. After finishing 2-20 last season, they have already cut their 2020 win total in half. It was the Liberty’s first game ever played at Barclay’s Center, and it was a game that Liberty fans are going to remember for a long time.
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Image Credit: Liberty Twitter