The No. 2 New York Liberty and No. 3 Connecticut Sun begin their best-of-five series in Brooklyn, with the winner advancing to the WNBA Finals. The Liberty won all four regular season meetings against the Sun.
May 27: Liberty win 81-65 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY
June 27: Liberty win 89-81 at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, CT
August 24: Liberty win 95-90 (OT) at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, CT
September 1: Liberty win 89-58 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY
Game One: Sunday, September 24, 1:00 p.m. ET (ESPN) at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY
Game Two: Tuesday, September 26, 8:00 p.m. ET (ESPN) at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY
Game Three: Friday, September 29, 7:30 p.m. ET (ESPN2) at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, CT
Game Four (if necessary): Sunday, October 1, 3:00 p.m. ET (ABC) at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, CT
Game Five (if necessary): Tuesday, October 3, time TBD (ESPNU, NBA TV, WNBA League Pass) at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY
Matchups We Can’t Wait to Watch
MH: Two matchups immediately jump to mind—in the paint and at the guard positions. The battle between Connecticut’s Alyssa Thomas and New York’s Jonquel Jones, specifically how Jones is able to limit Thomas as a scorer and playmaker, is at the top of my list. Thomas does a great job of running downhill, which is hard for any defense to stop, while distributing the ball in the paint, opening things up for her teammates. I want to see if Jones will disrupt Thomas on the defensive end, and if she can step up offensively when Thomas is guarding her.
In terms of guard play, Connecticut’s duo of Tiffany Hayes and Natisha Hiedeman will have to perform against New York’s Courtney Vandersloot and Sabrina Ionescu. In the Sun’s first-round series against Minnesota, Hayes and Hiedeman were fairly streaky, so consistency will be key. For the Liberty, Vandersloot and Ionescu have shown the ability to take over games, Vandersloot as more of a floor general and Ionescu as a threat to drop 30 points and five threes in a hurry. Whichever team gets better play from their guards will come out on top in this series, I believe.
DBL: Like Mitchell, I’m looking forward to this post contest. JJ should be matched up on both ends of the floor against Thomas—limiting AT at the point-of-attack as a playmaker will be a unique challenge for Jones, primarily a post defender. Much of Connecticut’s offense this season has been dictated by Thomas’ ability to get a head of steam going downhill, using her offensive gravity and scoring threat to draw defenders into the post and dish to the open shooter. The Liberty’s capacity to limit the Sun defensively will be bound to JJ’s ability to clog up passing lanes and keep up with AT’s speed and movement.
Going the other way, I’m curious how DeWanna Bonner will fare when called to D-up her former teammate. JJ’s departure from the Sun, as well as the injury to Bri Jones, forced Bonner to become a part-time defensive center, relieving AT on some defensive possessions by picking up the opponent’s five. Bonner’s length and perimeter defensive instincts should be well suited to limit JJ’s outside offense, but this matchup should prove a test of Bonner’s newfound post defense skills. If Jones is able to consistently outmuscle Bonner on post-ups and on the backboards, she could wreak some havoc for her former team.
DBL: New York’s X factor all postseason has been and will continue to be Betnijah Laney. Defenses have an extensive backlog of film to study in the pursuit of devising schemes to limit New York’s leading scorers, Ionescu and Breanna Stewart. Laney has punished defenders for sagging off of her to focus on her more ‘household name’ teammates, knocking down open threes off the catch-and-shoot and taking free driving lanes to the bucket for easy layups.
“[Betnijah] has worked so hard at making sure she can be that player for us. To hit catch-and-shoot shots, get downhill, and post up as a big guard,” Ionescu told Winsidr. “It gives a secret weapon offensively, because you can’t take anyone away.”
For Connecticut, I anticipate big contributions from Rebecca Allen, who averaged nine points and seven rebounds during the first round against the Lynx. Allen, nicknamed Spida for her intimidating wingspan, is one of the best perimeter defenders in the WNBA. We know how much the Liberty love the three-point ball; it’ll be on Bec’s shoulders to limit players like Ionescu on the perimeter and keep the Liberty from totally shooting the Sun out of the series. Allen will also be called upon to knock down some threes of her own in order to help Connecticut keep pace offensively, as well as providing some auxiliary rebounding for this squad with no true center.
MH: Jonquel Jones is absolutely my biggest X factor. If JJ has a big series—not just offensively but also limiting Thomas’ scoring ability—the Liberty will advance to the Finals.
Bench contributions and support, though, are an X factor for both teams. In the two wins over the Lynx, the Sun bench averaged 21.5 points. In the lone loss, the bench scored nine points. While New York doesn’t utilize its second unit as much—averaging 10.2 minutes and 15.2 points per game during the regular season—bench play will be crucial to the intensity of this battle, one the Sun must win to take the series.
MH: DeWanna Bonner will average 20/10 in this series.
Thomas usually gets a bulk of the attention for Connecticut, but Bonner has been playing outstanding this postseason, and she will continue that trend in the semifinal round. In three games against the Lynx, Bonner averaged 22 points, 10 rebounds, 4.7 assists, and 1.0 block over 35.3 minutes, numbers she will replicate against New York. With the Liberty defense focusing heavily on Thomas, look for a big series from Bonner.
DBL: Do not expect a big series from Alyssa Thomas.
In four games against the Liberty during the regular season, the MVP-finalist averaged 11.5 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 6.0 assists on abysmal 32.7 percent shooting. The Liberty held AT below her season averages across the stat sheet in these games, all of which Connecticut lost. The Liberty have consistently found ways to exploit the limitations of Thomas’ game and neutralize her as a threat. I do not anticipate the Sun, or Thomas, making the meaningful adjustments needed to overcome this.
Incidentally, the MVP award is slated to be revealed during the semifinals. Just thought I’d mention that.
Stats as of September 22, 2023 and, unless otherwise noted, courtesy of WNBA.com.