Late in the first quarter of what was essentially a must-win game against the Dallas Wings on Wednesday night, the New York Liberty found themselves down by 15 points and in desperate need of a spark. That’s when the Marine Johannes show started.
The flashy Frenchwoman drained a 3-pointer to cut the deficit to 12, then started the second quarter with two more triples. In true Johannes fashion, both shots — a step-back when she had a clear lane to the rim and a deep catch-and-shoot in semi-transition — were somewhat unnecessary, but both caught nothing but net. A few minutes later, she dropped a dime to Michaela Onyenwere then hit a layup to tie the game.
New York largely cruised from that point on, pulling away in the final few minutes of the fourth quarter for a 91-73 victory to improve to 14-20 and move back into the eighth and final playoff spot via a tiebreaker with the Atlanta Dream, who they will play twice more to close the season.
Johannes finished with 13 points and two assists on 5 of 7 from the field, but while she jumpstarted the turnaround, she was not the only star of the show. Sami Whitcomb (15 points, four rebounds and five assists) also played a big role in the comeback, and together those two led a dominant bench attack that combined for 50 points on 17 of 29 from the field. That was the highest-scoring bench performance by any team in the league this season, and the fourth-highest in franchise history, per Across the Timeline.
“It’s easy,” Liberty head coach Sandy Brondello said. “Basketball is about: can you get stops and can you run? That’s all it’s about. That’s what our bench gave us tonight. We got consecutive stops in a row, then we moved the ball and made shots.”
In addition to a huge night from their reserves, the Liberty got another strong showing from their best player, Sabrina Ionescu. Though she didn’t score in the first half, she turned things on after the break and carried the Liberty home. She had 11 points, four rebounds and four assists in the third quarter alone — as the Liberty built a double-digit lead — and finished with 13 points, nine rebounds and seven assists on 6 of 12 from the field.
When Ionescu is getting help like she did against the Wings, the Liberty are extremely tough to beat. Those all-around performances haven’t happened often enough, however, which is why the Liberty are stuck in this predicament. The good news is they still have a chance to make the playoffs, which is all you can ask for after a 1-7 start.