That ticker-tape procession down Manhattan’s famed Canyon of Heroes many New York Liberty loyals envisioned in their heads once this rendition of Liberty basketball was assembled will have to wait for another year.
New York’s players, coaches and fans will likely be replaying Game 4 – particularly the closing moments of that Game 4 – in their heads for the entire offseason. The Lib were down 70-69 and had possession with eight seconds to play in the fourth quarter – exactly what Sandy Brondello’s team wanted.
Despite a cold shooting night, Brondello still had faith that the ball needed to be in Breanna Stewart’s hands to send the series to a Game 5 back at Michelob Ultra Arena. Instead, the Liberty were forced into a long-range two – exactly the shot the Las Vegas Aces wanted the Liberty to take and the series and season concluded at Atlantic and Flatbush.
That Game 4 contest was one where, on paper, the Liberty entered the matchup with plenty of advantages. The first being that the Aces were down two of their starters in Chelsea Gray (last season’s Finals MVP) and Kiah Stokes who, ironically, is a former Liberty draft selection.
In addition, the Liberty were riding a wave of momentum shortly after putting together a stellar Game 3 in large part thanks to the heroics of Jonquel Jones. In addition, over 17,000 packed Barclays in hopes of seeing their Libs in the win column.
Even down 2-0, New York still believed and following Game 3, sports fans of Gotham – a city starving for a winner currently – had hope that the Liberty could pull off the impossible.
Not to mention for all that the Aces had accomplished before once against tasting championship glory this past Wednesday, there was one thing Las Vegas had yet to do – beat New York at Barclays.
Thanks to a 24-point, 16-rebound outburst from 2023 Finals MVP A’ja Wilson, the Aces are champions once again and New York once again comes up just a bit short on the big stage.
One can only imagine the emotions of that Liberty locker room after Game 4 concluded. Stewie being hard on herself for her cold shooting night. Vandersloot hoping that long try at the end of the game would have hit paydirt and may have taken off the roof at The Clays. Jones asking herself how she was held to only six points after the Aces had seemingly no answer for her the rest of the series. Ionescu asking herself why she was so inconsistent.
Even Brondello perhaps asking herself if putting the ball in Stewart’s hands for that final shot was a case of WNBA analytics.
This is where Liberty fans need to get into their seafoam, copper and black-colored time machines back to 2018.
Many Twitter accounts have made mention of this, but did we simply forget where the Liberty were a few seasons ago?
James Dolan and MSG was putting the team up for sale and had the New York Liberty – the team that plays in the WNBA’s flagship market – in an old, decrepit Westchester County Center that barely held 2,500 seats.
The franchise was on life support. Even worse, the Liberty were losing games left and right for a few seasons.
The Liberty spent two seasons at Westchester before the bubble season of 2020 then finally relocating full-time to Barclays Center in 2021 with Joe and Clara Wu Tsai buying the franchise and fully integrating them in the same umbrella as the Brooklyn Nets.
The franchise had to be torn down then rebuilt again – including the roster, coaching staff and front office. Heck, the Liberty’s logo even got a facelift and the team also has a new television partner in the YES Network.
This iteration of New York Liberty basketball is not one’s older sister’s. And that is exactly why Liberty fans should still feel optimistic about this team.
There is no shame in losing to the Aces. In fact, the Aces themselves understand the importance of going through something to get to something.
Stewie herself knows as she was part of the 2020 Seattle Storm team that swept these Aces in Wilson’s first time at the Finals. Las Vegas was not ready to win then the way it is now.
The story for a good portion of this Finals was how the Aces were battle-tested as a team where the Liberty were battle-tested as individuals on other teams such as Stewart in Seattle and Sloot in Chicago. New York certainly built more and more chemistry as the season wore on, but the Finals are an entirely different animal.
The Liberty have to go through this to get that first championship in franchise history. And trust us, folks …it is coming and coming soon.
Free agency will tell us a lot about what the 2024 Liberty will look like but this year’s regular season MVP appears to be all but signaling she will be in New York next season. As much as those two rings she won in Seattle mean to her, delivering the first-ever championship for her home town and home state Liberty will mean even more.
Jones has done plenty of winning throughout her career – including with the Connecticut Sun. But she has yet to win a championship. For much of these Finals, Jones played like a champion even if she is not claiming championship hardware.
Ionescu needs a championship to enhance her legacy. A championship would be a watershed moment in Laney’s career and life given she was overlooked by three WNBA teams – Indiana Fever, Chicago Sky and Atlanta Dream.
Marine Johannes said during Liberty exit interviews that she is likely to put emphasis on her national team (France) next year. That is to be expected given next year is an Olympic year plus next year’s Games are in her home country.
Defeats like this only make teams hungrier and we know that is what will happen with the Liberty. Those 17,000 fans that departed Barclays Center that Wednesday night on one of the many subways that venue connects to may have been going home with dejected looks on their faces.
It will not be long – maybe even as soon as October 2024 – where those 17,000 and more New Yorkers and New Jerseyans have 17,000-watt grins on their faces enjoying that Liberty ticker tape parade down the Canyon of Heroes.