WNBA playoffs 2022 – Why the WNBA is best off with the New York Liberty within the postseason

The New York Liberty performed for the WNBA championship 4 occasions within the league’s first six seasons. In these early days, the Liberty appeared to be proper within the coronary heart of the motion. However 20 years have handed since New York has been within the WNBA Finals.

One of many league’s authentic franchises, the Liberty have not been a contender for some time. And because the No. 7 seed that faces the 2-seed Chicago Sky in a best-of-three collection because the WNBA playoffs start Wednesday (8 p.m. ET, ESPN2), it is a stretch to name New York a contender now. The Liberty (16-20) must safe a minimum of one street victory in opposition to the defending champions to maneuver on, and so they went 1-3 in opposition to the Sky within the common season. New York hasn’t received a playoff recreation since 2015.

But simply the truth that the Liberty are within the playoffs for the second consecutive season — after a three-year absence once they went a mixed 19-71 from 2018 to 2020 — means one thing. Sports activities followers nationwide would possibly love or hate groups from New York, but it surely’s probably the most populated metropolis within the nation and brings plenty of media consideration. And the WNBA is best off when the Liberty are within the postseason.

“It’s definitely good to be in the New York market … to be in the playoffs,” Liberty guard/ahead Betnijah Laney stated. “I think it’s good exposure for not only us, but the W as a whole.”

Beneath Sandy Brondello, who’s in her first yr in New York however is a longtime WNBA coach, there is a feeling concerning the Liberty that good issues are right here now and higher issues are across the nook.

The Liberty had their ups and downs this season, together with a 1-7 begin and a 3-7 document in July. However issues have began to come back collectively. Laney, the Liberty’s main scorer in 2021, was out from Could 17 to Aug. 6 due to knee points that required surgical procedure. Her return gave the Liberty one other top-tier participant on their run to a playoff berth.

This yr, New York has seen Sabrina Ionescu, the No. 1 decide within the 2020 WNBA draft, blossom in her first totally wholesome season, as she leads the crew in scoring (17.4 factors per recreation) and assists (6.3) and is second in rebounds (7.1). The guard has had two triple-doubles this season and gives the joy issue that she did as a school star at Oregon.

“Sabrina has had a great year,” Brondello stated of the All-Star.

“We want sustainable success, and this just gives us confidence as we move forward. There’s areas we need to get better in, but it’s the start of a journey and hopefully will be a long one.”

Liberty coach Sandy Brondello

Ahead Natasha Howard, restricted to 13 video games final season due to a knee harm, performed all however one recreation this yr, and she or he is the Liberty’s main rebounder (7.3 RPG) and second-leading scorer (15.1 PPG).

Three gamers from abroad — France’s Marine Johannes, China’s Han Xu and Australia’s Rebecca Allen — all have been contributors and have their very own respective fan bases. Xu, an effervescent 6-foot-10 middle, is thought for her smile and her progress this season. She averaged 3.0 factors as an understandably overwhelmed 19-year-old WNBA rookie in 2019. Now she is averaging 8.5 factors and three.6 rebounds and is simply beginning to come into her personal at age 22.

The Liberty signed New York state native Stefanie Dolson, who received the WNBA title with Chicago final yr, as a free agent. They picked up guard Crystal Dangerfield, the 2020 WNBA Rookie of the 12 months who was waived by the Minnesota Lynx simply earlier than the season started. After a short stint with the Indiana Fever, Dangerfield got here to New York on Could 21, and she or he has began 27 of 30 video games with the Liberty.

New York may not but be a crew with all the products to compete for a title, however particularly when the Liberty are clicking offensively, they’re enjoyable to observe.

The Liberty are simply two years faraway from going 2-20 within the bubble in Bradenton, Florida; that is additionally when Ionescu was misplaced for the season with a extreme ankle harm suffered in her third WNBA recreation. Nothing appeared to be going New York’s means, however there’s been a turnaround since then.

“We talk about our culture, and we want to be a united team,” Brondello stated. “We found a way, and we grew as a team — on and off the court. We want sustainable success, and this just gives us confidence as we move forward. There’s areas we need to get better in, but it’s the start of a journey and hopefully will be a long one.”

Brondello was nonetheless a participant within the WNBA, with the Miami Sol, when the Liberty final made the WNBA Finals, dropping to the Los Angeles Sparks in 2002. Richie Adubato was New York’s coach then, and Brondello is now the seventh to helm the crew since Adubato was fired through the 2004 season. He led the Liberty to all three of their WNBA Finals appearances. Additionally they performed within the first WNBA championship recreation in 1997, earlier than there have been playoff collection; that was below the management of the late Nancy Darsch.

From 2004 to 2015, the Liberty misplaced within the convention finals 4 occasions, the final in 2015. That was the final yr of the outdated playoff format that matched the Jap and Western convention winners within the WNBA Finals. Invoice Laimbeer was the Liberty coach then, adopted by former WNBA star Katie Smith and Walt Hopkins.

The Phoenix Mercury did not renew Brondello’s contract in December, which was the absolute best end result for New York. A coach with championship expertise — the Mercury received the title in 2014 below Brondello — was obtainable simply on the time the Liberty wanted new management.

The Liberty gamers have responded effectively to Brondello, and she or he has been proud of their progress. And the crew is making believers out of its followers in Brooklyn. The franchise performed at Madison Sq. Backyard for a lot of of its first 21 seasons — with some exceptions — till being bought by former proprietor James Dolan. Brooklyn Nets proprietor Joseph Tsai purchased the crew in 2019, and Barclays Middle turned its full-time residence final yr.

New York wants a victory in a minimum of one in every of its two playoff video games in Chicago to have an opportunity to play once more at residence this yr. The Sky will make that very tough. However even when they do not compete in Barclays once more till 2023, the Liberty now appear much more just like the form of crew the WNBA advantages from them being.

“I think I had pretty high expectations coming into it, knowing it was Brooklyn and New York City, but they’ve kind of blown them out of the water,” Dolson stated of the vibe across the Liberty. “The fans have come out for a lot of games, and our last game was incredible. They come out and support us, and it makes it feel that much more important and special.”