Sabrina Ionescu (308659)
Credit: Bill Moore photo

It took a big win in the final regular season game and two days of patiently waiting, but on Sunday evening the New York Liberty learned it would be advancing to the WNBA Playoffs for the first time in four years. Last Friday, the Liberty came out fierce against the Washington Mystics at Barclays Center, at one point leading by 24 points, but the Mystics rallied and cut the lead to five points. In the end, New York would not be denied, and the team prevailed 91–80.

The win was certainly reason to celebrate, and head coach Walt Hopkins seemed jubilant at the post-game press conference. “[The playoffs] would be a tremendous experience for us,” said Hopkins post-game. “The amount of experiences we can get are so important for the development of the team.”

The Liberty finished regular season play 12–20 with all but two of those wins coming before the Olympic break. At times, the team struggled to find cohesion and consistency. That was even evident in the win over the Mystics in which a huge lead evaporated before the eventual push to victory.

Sabrina Ionescu, the top pick in the 2020 WNBA Draft, had somewhat of a breakthrough in the game against Washington. Taken out of her rookie season by an injury, Ionescu finally showed the brilliance that made her a star in the college game with 22 points, nine assists, one steal and five rebounds.

“In other games, we’d give up our lead or give up our momentum,” said Ionescu after the win over Washington. “Tonight, showed we were up big and they got hot and hit a lot of great and tough shots, but we were able to continue to score and continue to stay together. That’s a huge growth moment for us this season that we finally reached and now we have to continue to do that moving forward.”

Friday’s game brought the Liberty’s regular season to a close, but the Mystics and the Los Angeles Sparks each had one game left to play. A win would put either of those teams ahead of the Liberty in standings and into the playoffs. First, the Mystics fell to the Minnesota Lynx 83–77, and then the Sparks were defeated by the Dallas Wings 87–84.

The Liberty take on the Phoenix Mercury tonight in the first round of the WNBA Playoffs. It is a single-game elimination. The Connecticut Sun has the top seed for the playoffs after establishing a historic 14-game winning streak to conclude the season.