September 24, 2023 

Rebecca Allen thrives in New York Liberty playoff game — but for the Connecticut Sun

Longtime Liberty mainstay critical to Sun win in Game 1 on the road

BROOKLYN — Rebecca Allen, the final member of the New York Liberty to participate in a playoff game at Madison Square Garden, spent years envisioning what it would look like when New York returned to the postseason to play meaningful games at Barclays Center.

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Safe to say she didn’t picture it quite like this, as a member of the visiting Connecticut Sun, scoring 18 points and deploying her brand of versatile defense in Connecticut’s 78-63 win over the Liberty in Game 1 of their 2023 WNBA semifinal series.

“I mean, it’s pretty awesome,” an ebullient Allen said, sitting at the postgame podium and reflecting on the afternoon. “It’s my first WNBA semifinals and it’s to be playing my old team. So there’s a lot of things about that that are quite special for me.”

Allen’s two watchwords entering Sunday’s matchup were “assertive” and “competent”, and she quickly manifested each of them. She knocked down a pair of early threes, while defending a variety of Liberty threats. Everyone from Sabrina Ionescu to Breanna Stewart came under the umbrella of Allen’s responsibilities at different points in the first quarter, and not coincidentally, both started slowly, with Stewart failing to register her first points until the final moments of the opening quarter.

DeWanna Bonner and Rebecca Allen of the Connecticut Sun answer questions following the Sun's Game 1 victory over the New York Liberty on Sept. 24, 2023. (Howard Megdal photo)
DeWanna Bonner and Rebecca Allen of the Connecticut Sun answer questions following the Sun’s Game 1 victory over the New York Liberty on Sept. 24, 2023. (Howard Megdal photo)

“She’s a long defender,” DeWanna Bonner, who led the Sun with 20 points, said of Allen, sitting next to her on the podium. “She’s smart. She’s a vet, so she knows how to play defense… it’s an advantage having her on our team, and then she can shoot the shit out of the ball. So it’s kind of a double whammy.”

Allen’s scoring came from beyond the arc, where she hit four threes, but her activity could be felt everywhere, as when she was able to sneak behind the defense on a backdoor cut and finish with a layup. Scoring 18 is one thing — doing it on just nine shots from the field is a model of efficiency.

“She played a great game,” Liberty head coach Sandy Brondello, who is familiar with Allen not just from last season’s Liberty but from the Australian national team as well, said following the game. “It wasn’t just scoring, it was her defense. Her length bothered us. Her rebounding, cutting. She was a handful for us tonight.”

Allen was a difference-maker not just in aggregate, but in the moments when she made her biggest plays. Midway through the second quarter, Sun guard Tiffany Hayes went to the bench with her third foul, with the subsequent free throws from that foul, converted by Jonquel Jones, tied the game at 35. Allen asserted herself on the very next possession, hitting a pullup jumper from 18 feet out to put the Sun back in front.

Her contribution in the third quarter was even more significant. The Sun led 53-42 when New York came at them with a 6-0 run, capped by a Kayla Thornton three, to cut the deficit to 53-48, elevating the energy of the Barclays Center crowd for a rare occasion Sunday. Stephanie White’s ATO called for Allen to get free for a three, and she knocked it down to end what would turn out to be New York’s best threat of the second half.

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“It might not always be the first option, but it’s always a secondary or third option in every action that we have,” White said of Allen. “…She caught the ball shot ready today. And she needed to for us to be successful.”

Allen’s ability to defend on the perimeter was critical against a Liberty team with three-point threats throughout its rotation, bigs and wings and guards alike. But it led to a knock-on effect for Connecticut’s interior defense, with the Sun holding New York to just 22 points in the paint. Washington, by contrast, allowed 40 and 52 interior points in their two games against the Liberty.

“I think it helps so much,” Sun center Olivia Nelson-Ododa said, standing in the hallway just outside the Sun locker room. “Her versatility, and I don’t think that enough guards really recognize how long she is when they’re playing against her. The sneaky length like that has really come in clutch for our team and you can see it every night, especially when she’s out there. She’s getting steals, deflections, blocks and it’s the little things like that that really give us momentum and drive the team.”

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Her presence in the locker room, too, has empowered the Sun, with Nelson-Ododa raving about how “my highs and lows, she’s always there, providing encouragement.” It is the kind of emotional connection she shared with her former teammates, too, and that was evident in Allen’s gesture to walk to where Sabrina Ionescu and Marine Johannes were on the court to hug them even before the final buzzer sounded Sunday afternoon, before high-fiving her current teammates en route to the tunnel exit from the Barclays Center court.

It was a game with meaning, but Rebecca Allen doesn’t do grudge matches.

“I mean, they’re beautiful people. I’ve got friendships with all of them and I always I wish for success for them, Allen said, before adding with a gleam in her eye, “But, you know, I want more for us.”

Jackie Powell contributed reporting to this story.

Written by Howard Megdal

Howard is the founder of The Next and editor-in-chief.

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