After blowing a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter, the New York Liberty trailed defending champion Chicago Sky by two on Saturday night with just 19 seconds left. Desperate for a field goal, they turned to their All-Star point guard Sabrina Ionescu.
Controlling the top with time running out and defensive specialist Rebekah Gardner invading his space, Ionescu had to make a decision. She opted to put the ball on the deck and head for the basket, but it looked like Gardner was going to cut her off and force her to the baseline. Instead, after a shrewd hesitant move, Ionescu created just enough angle to slip past Gardner and finish on the edge plus the foul.
“Well, they were forcing me to the right, so I just went,” Ionescu said. “But hats off to my team-mates. They opened up to me and believed in me through the tough times. Really happy to get that shot.”
Ionescu, who finished with 17 points, eight rebounds and nine assists, calmly stepped up the line and completed the one-and-one to give the Liberty the lead with 9.7 seconds left. They would go on to claim an 83-80 victory to end Sky’s six-game winning streak and their own five-game losing streak.
After a historically poor 1-7 start, the Liberty embarked on a stunning turnaround and won seven of their next 10 games to return to the playoff draw. The wheels fell again after that, however, and entering Saturday night they had lost five in a row and seven of their last eight.
Considering the opponent, their recent form and the spectacular finish, this was perhaps the biggest win of the season for the Liberty. Despite all the ups and downs, they are still in contention for a playoff spot. Thanks to the upset win over the Sky, they moved up to 10th place and within 1.5 games of eighth place Phoenix Mercury.
There is a mass of six teams between sixth and 11th place who are separated by only three games and are fighting for three playoff spots. Eight of the Liberty’s remaining nine games are against those teams: two against the Mercurys, Los Angeles Sparks, Dallas Wings and Atlanta Dream.
If the past few months have been any indication, the Liberty is poised for plenty of drama over time. And if things break, they might just sneak into the playoffs after all.
“I hope this is the start [of another turnaround]”, said Ionescu. “We will continue to build, we will continue to trust the process and to build together. It started tonight and we’re going to keep snacking and hopefully keep picking up wins.”