The New York Liberty, considered the “super team” for this WNBA season, showed they are still developing after an 80-64 season-opening loss to host Washington Mystics on Friday night.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, no team has lost their season opener by 16 points and still won the WNBA title. But point guard Courtney Vandersloot said the Liberty are nowhere near “panic mode.”
“It has to build up,” said Liberty coach Sandy Brondello. “I wish we had a slightly longer camp with our entire team. … We can learn a lot from it. The team with the most chemistry certainly won tonight. We weren’t very good, but they were very good.”
In fact, New York looked like a team with several new players still getting back into the basketball rhythm, while DC looked like a unit that had been playing together for years. After all, four of his five starters were part of the title-winning streak in 2019.
“That was a big lesson for us,” said Vandersloot. “What a big test for us to start the season and play against a side like this who are really in full swing tonight.”
Over in Brooklyn, off-season newcomers Breanna Stewart, Jonquel Jones and Vandersloot saw limited action at training camp and took to the training ground for the first time this week. Jones, who requested a move to New York in January, is recovering from a foot injury while Stewart, who signed for Liberty on a free transfer, has rested part of the training camp after her season in Turkey. Vandersloot, who was also a free agent, missed time after suffering a concussion early in camp.
Jones and Vandersloot were both subject to minute restrictions on Friday, seeing the pitch for 19 and 27 minutes respectively.
The lack of chemistry and rust was evident on Friday when the Liberty shot 34% out of the field compared to the Mystics’ 45.7%. The Liberty also went 7:31 from 3-point range and had 22 turnovers. Washington capitalized on New York’s misses and dominated the open floor with 16 fast break points.
“Ultimately, the more chemistry we build, the more understanding we have of our offense and the positions that we want each of us to be in, it will all take care of itself,” said liberty guard Sabrina Ionescu. “That starts with me and Courtney being the leaders and taking control of the ball and holding everyone accountable. We forced it a bit.”
Ionescu, the former No. 1 draft pick, led all scorers with 18 points, while Stewart (12 points) and Betnijah Laney (10) combined for 22 points.
The Liberty are hoping to improve ahead of their home opener at 2 p.m. ET on Sunday.
“We delivered good shots,” said Ionescu. “We have shots that we know we’re going to make and we’re going to build on that and bring this Sunday.”
Aside from the Liberty’s growing pains, the performance was a statement from the Mystics that they are not a team to forget when discussing championship contenders.
“You can all sleep on,” said Natasha Cloud, who finished with 14 points, six rebounds and six assists. “We are confident in what we have in this dressing room. You can keep talking about the superhero teams, but we know who we are and what we bring to the table every night. … We’re such a selfless team.” It’s really fun to be together. When you talk about the composition of a championship team, it is exactly that.”