Betnijah Laney (308897)
Credit: Bill Moore photo

The New York Liberty arrived in Phoenix focused and ready to play the team’s first playoff game since 2017 and score its first-ever win in the WNBA’s current playoff structure. Longtime Phoenix Mercury star Diana Taurasi was not able to play, which opened the door for the Liberty. Unfortunately, it was not to be, and the Liberty’s 2021 season came to an end with an 83–82 loss last Thursday.

Liberty head coach Walt Hopkins said he wanted to speak about a lack of respect the team received all season from the officials, but couldn’t, but then did. “The referees are above reproach. They don’t have to do a press conference after games. They don’t have to explain the mistakes they make,” Hopkins said. “The way that they treated us is bad.”

Hopkins praised his players, saying they did more than enough to win the game. “We don’t get respect because we’re a young team,” said Hopkins. “With that said, this team has earned respect.”

Despite disappointment, Hopkins said there was a lot of pride about the way the team came together. He said the players really stepped up and he gave credit to veteran leaders Betnijah Laney and Natasha Howard.

As she had all season, Laney was dominant in this game with 25 points, four rebounds, three assists and one steal. Laney said the team’s improvement in recent weeks is something the players can take into next season. “It came down to things not going our way in the last few seconds,” said Laney.

Howard, who arrived late from overseas and then suffered an injury that kept her out of action until after the Olympic break, had another double-double, with 16 points and 10 rebounds. Sabrina Ionescu continued to show she’s ready to shine with a double-double, 14 points and 11 assists. “We definitely did our job,” said Howard.

“I think it shows what we’re capable of,” said Laney. “We showed a lot of growth. It shows that we’re here and we’re here to stay. I think there were a lot of questions about how we were going to come out and what kind of team New York was. Throughout the season and especially our last game against the Mystics…it says a lot about the team. We’ll be back and we’re going to be really good. Just know that I said it.”

The Liberty players will now move onto their off-season activities, which for many of them will be playing overseas. When the team comes back together next spring, the expectation is they will be ready to win.