September 12, 2021 

New York Liberty: Chaos ensues for the final seed in the playoff race

After losing seven straight, the Liberty still have a chance at the postseason

After falling to the Wings at the last second on Saturday night 77-76, Liberty post player Natasha Howard was visibly deflated. When the camera began rolling during the presser, Howard almost immediately picked up a box score and began reading it.

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Moments later, she brought the single sheet of paper closer to her face. Her Gray snapback covered her eyes as she continued to scan the sheet looking for what could have led the Liberty to an L rather than a W.

After two minutes of reading the boxscore, Howard hands it back trying to engage with the press conference that included her and teammates Sabrina Ionescu and Betnijah Laney. Laney, who answered all of the questions in the presser, explained what gave her hope in finishing these final two games strong against the first-place Connecticut Sun. And the also playoff hungry Washington Mystics.

Howard while looking at the camera wiped her left eye and then her forehead. Laney ended the presser explaining how New York’s attention to detail has improved but there’s still work that needed to be done. “It could be something as simple as missed box out or anything like that and so once we really focus in and are able to control those things, we’ll be in good shape,” Laney said. “We just have to marry that with the progress that we’ve been making.”

Howard, who was clearly misty-eyed, wiped her left eye again and then her forehead before looking at her hands. In a game where the Liberty had balanced an efficient scoring from four of their five starters, New York once again fell short in the fourth quarter scoring 10 total points to the Wings’ 21. This is a trend that has haunted the Liberty in its last three games, in which they took the Minnesota Lynx, the Seattle Storm and now the Wings down to the final minutes.

“I think Sami said it best in one of the timeouts,” Walt Hopkins said postgame on what the fourth-quarter collapse was a function of. “One of our tendencies this year has been that when we’re not scoring, we also stop playing defense. I thought we lost a little bit of confidence. I think that this team, they’ll really fly, they’ll really be hard to guard for long stretches and then in some of these tight moments it looks to me like they’re more worried about making mistakes than they are about continuing to be aggressive and confident.”

He also noted that there was some hesitation on switches leading to the defensive lapses in the final 10 minutes. In what looked like the final blow for the 2021 New York Liberty’s playoff hopes is not. For the Liberty, it’s going to all come down to their final game of the season against the Mystics this Friday at home.

The New York Liberty walk off the court to the locker room for halftime against the Washington Mystics on May 21. Former Liberty legend and current Mystics power forward Tina Charles stands on the court as the Liberty exit. (Photo credit: Domenic Allegra)

New York, who has been in control of their own destiny since returning from the Olympic break hasn’t won a game since Aug. 18. How could a team that has lost seven straight games still be in the running for the postseason? With the Dallas Wings officially punching their ticket to the playoffs last night, the Liberty now are still jockeying with the injury-stricken Washington Mystics. And LA Sparks for that final spot. As of Sunday afternoon, the Liberty remain a half-game out of the No. 8 spot along with the Sparks trailing a half a game behind New York.

While FiveThirtyEight predicts that the Mystics have a 51 percent chance of advancing to the postseason to Liberty’s 38 percent chance and the Sparks’ 10 percent chance; unexpected chaos involving multiple ties at different tiebreakers levels influence who will walk away with a playoff birth.

  • If the Liberty win out against the Sun and the Mystics, they make it to their first playoffs since 2017.
  • If the Liberty go 1-1 and beat the Mystics in their final regular season at home, the Mystics must also lose to the Lynx for New York to make the playoffs.
  • If the Liberty go 0-2 they miss the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season.

Okay, this seems really pretty simple, so how exactly does said chaos ensue? Well, I forgot about the Sparks who if they win two of their last three games against the Dream and the Wings could remain in a tie with the Liberty if New York beats the Mystics at home.

Also, there could be a literal coin flip if the Sparks lose by at least 38 points to the Storm on Sunday.

For the Liberty to be able to put themselves in the best position to advance, they’ve got to not only execute their offensive and defensive principles. But they need to have a sense of urgency and focus that comes from within. Hopkins believes his group has recovered from their regression period. On Saturday he explained that the Liberty have found their urgency will continue to understand the feeling they need to have to put themselves in positions to win games.

“I think that the thing that we’re talking about is not so much a sense of urgency in this game it’s a sense of urgency in every game,” he said pregame on Saturday. “You know the consistency with which we bring intensity. Attention to detail, focus, you know, but it’s more about progress than perfection for us. So, keeping in mind that the goal is the same every night.”

There’s no time for New York to start any of the remaining games left stagnant, something that second-year player Kylee Shook proclaimed loudly and clearly before the loss to the Wings on Saturday night. “So if we come out and we’re stagnant, it just can’t happen,” Shook said. “So I don’t think that will even be in the runs tonight.”

Now back to Howard whos’ the new post-presence in town. She will have every opportunity to avenge the loss against the Wings where she missed two free throws and turned the ball over five times.

The Liberty will face the Mystics for the first time this season with Howard fully healthy. On the road in May, the Liberty got whooped by the Mystics in Tina Charles’ 34 point revenge game. But then Laney, Jazmine Jones and Ionescu got the last against Washington at home on July 3, weathering another Charles 30+ point performance.

With Charles and company coming down on Friday, for what will be a play-in game for the postseason; this game will be a battle of the Liberty’s past and present to guarantee or deny them a playoff birth.

Written by Jackie Powell

Jackie Powell covers the New York Liberty and runs social media and engagement strategy for The Next. She also has covered women's basketball for Bleacher Report and her work has appeared in Sports Illustrated, Harper's Bazaar and SLAM. She also self identifies as a Lady Gaga stan, is a connoisseur of pop music and is a mental health advocate.

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