Another night, another surprise in the semi-final series between the New York Liberty and Connecticut Sun. While everyone expected the Liberty to bounce back in Game 2, no one predicted that they would do so by implementing a zone defense. But that’s just what happened, as the Liberty evened the series at 1-1 with an 84-77 win.
The Liberty had an unlucky draw in the first round against a Washington Mystics team that was severely underseeded, which made for a highly competitive series. They passed the test, however, to win their first playoff series since 2015, and are now three wins away from their first Finals trip since 2002.
As for the Sun, they were the only higher seed to lose a game in the first round. In the end, though, they didn’t really have much trouble with the Minnesota Lynx, winning the other two games handily to advance to the semifinals for a fifth consecutive season, which is tied for the longest active such streak in the league.
Here’s everything you need to know about this semi-final showdown:
(2) New York Liberty vs. (3) Connecticut Sun
Game 1:(Sun lead series 1-0)
Game 2:(Series tied 1-1)
Game 3: Liberty at Sun
- Date: Friday, Sept. 26 | Time: 7:30 p.m. ET
- Location: Mohegan Sun Arena — Uncasville, Connecticut
- TV channel: ESPN 2 | Live stream: fubo (try for free)
- Odds: Liberty -4 | O/U: 159.5
Game 4: Liberty at Sun, Sunday, Oct. 1, 3 p.m. ET — ABC
Game 5*: Sun at Liberty, Tuesday, Oct. 3, TBD — ESPN U
Players to watch
Liberty: Jonquel Jones
Jonquel Jones should be able to dominate the paint in this series, just like she did in the first round against the Washington Mystics when she put up 19 points, 13.5 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game on 61.9% shooting. The Sun are a tough defensive team, but they don’t have anyone in their starting lineup who can contend with Jones’ size down low.
Sun: Alyssa Thomas
Thomas is always the player to watch for the Sun because she makes their whole operation run. She is their best defender, best rebounder and best playmaker, and second-leading scorer. During the regular season, the team was plus-7.5 points per 100 possessions when she played and minus-22.7 when she sat.
Three keys to the series
A tough matchup for Alyssa Thomas
Alyssa Thomas might wind up winning MVP this season, but not for her play against the Liberty. In four games against New York this season, Thomas averaged 11.5 points, 7.3 rebounds, six assists and 3.5 turnovers on 32.7% shooting from the field. It was no surprise, then, that the Sun went 0-4 against their East Coast rivals.
Thomas is their driving force, and when she doesn’t play well, the team doesn’t play well. So why does she struggle so much against the Liberty, and is there anything she can do to change that?
The main problem for Thomas is that Breanna Stewart and Jonquel Jones are two of the best interior defenders in the league, and Thomas operates almost solely around the lane; only 67 of her 513 shot attempts this season came outside of the paint. Her entire game is predicated on being able to bully her way into the teeth of the defense, where she either scores herself or finds a teammate when the defense collapses.
That’s a difficult prospect when Stewart is hounding her all game and Jones is patrolling the weak side, ready to contest her flip shots or deflect passes. And because Thomas is largely ground-bound and generally incapable of shooting from more than 10 feet away, there are not many adjustments for her to make.
Even if she isn’t as bad in this series as she was at times in the regular season against the Liberty, it’s hard to see how she imposes her will to the extent that the Sun need her to.
Will the Liberty remember they have Jonquel Jones?
Jonquel Jones is one of the most talented players in the league, but the Liberty often forget that fact for large stretches of each game. Look no further than Game 2 against the Mystics, when Jones had two different 10-minute stretches in which she didn’t take a shot, despite the fact that the Mystics had no one who could guard her.
It will be the same story in this series against a Sun team whose only starter over 6-foot-2 is DeWanna Bonner, and she does not have the strength to deal with Jones. During the regular season, Jones averaged 13 points, 8.8 rebounds and 2.3 blocks on 50% shooting against the Sun, and that’s including an early-season game when she was still working her way back into shape from a foot injury. Throw that one out and it’s 15 points, 10.7 rebounds and 2.7 blocks on 51.4% shooting.
The only thing that can slow Jones down is the Liberty not getting her the ball. When they remember that they have a former MVP on their team and run crisp, intentional offense to get her the ball, it creates an easy look almost every time — whether that’s for Jones or someone else after the defense collapses.
Can the Sun out-shoot the Liberty?
The 2023 Liberty were the greatest 3-point shooting team in WNBA history. They set league records for 3-pointers made per game (11.1) and total makes (444) and led the league in percentage (37.4). They made at least 15 3-pointers in a game six times; the rest of the league combined did so three times. We have never seen a team shoot with this combination of volume and precision.
On the other side is a Sun team that is much more selective with its 3-point attempts, but is efficient with the ones it does put up. They finished ninth in the league in attempts per game (20), but fourth in percentage (36.0) and Tyasha Harris led the league in 3-point percentange (46.4).
In the playoffs so far, however, the roles have been reversed. The Liberty have been a disaster, making just 28.1% of their attempts in the first round, while the Sun poured in 45.7% of their looks, which leads all postseason teams. More interesting is that the Sun have upped their frequency as well to 23.3 per game.
That trend continuing is perhaps the Sun’s only chance of stealing this series. They were the best 3-point defense in the league during the regular season, allowing opponents to make 32.1% of their attempts. Can they keep the Liberty cold from downtown? And, perhaps more importantly, can they continue shooting it this well? If the answer to either or both is no, the Sun will be in trouble.
The Sun have been an incredible story this season, but at this stage in the playoffs they don’t have enough talent to hang with the Liberty. To make matters worse, this is a terrible matchup for Alyssa Thomas, who is their singular driving force. While the Liberty can be a bit laissez-faire at times, they’re simply the better team, and that will show out over the course of the series. Pick: Liberty in 4