Liberty look to repeat as WNBA Commissioner’s Cup Champions

NEW YORK — A year after securing the franchise’s first piece of hardware, the New York Liberty look to defend their title and once again go home with a nice bag of cash.

This time around, Sandy Brondello’s squad are hosts for the Commissioner’s Cup Championship Game. A perfect 5-0 record earned the Eastern Conference’s top squad home-court advantage to host the game against Napheesa Collier and the Minnesota Lynx. But an inexcusable, embarrassing scheduling conflict forces the Liberty to defend the Commissioner’s Cup title game at UBS Arena, a venue the team has never played in.

“It sucks that we play at UBS. I’m not gonna sugarcoat it,” last year’s Cup Game MVP Jonquel Jones said. “We want to be able to play here at Barclays with our home crowd and everything. But ultimately, it’s still New York.”

Indeed, it’s still New York. But the Liberty will now defend their title in a venue that feels more like a neutral site against an opponent that went 4-1 in the qualifying round looked like one of the league’s best teams doing so.

Another positive for the Lynx: they’ll charter into New York in a plane filled with confidence after already trouncing the Liberty, 84-67, in a May 25 matchup at Target Center.

It’ll be a showdown of two teams amongst the best in power rankings. Here’s a breakdown of factors going into the annual in-season game.


The Lynx are entering Long Island following a four-game home stand and with two days of rest. The team hasn’t endured a back-to-back in a month and have mostly cruised to double-digit victories during its current six-game winning streak.

The Liberty are on a three-game winning streak themselves and have lost just one game in the last 12 matchups. But, the Liberty returned home Sunday after a home-and-away back-to-back. And in the last three games, Brondello only had eight players available due to several injuries, forcing her to load heavy minutes on star players.

Before Sunday’s easy win over the Atlanta Dream, Sabrina Ionescu had gotten no more than six minutes of rest in six games. In the front end of a back-to-back Saturday, Breanna Stewart (37), Ionescu (35) and Jonquel Jones (32) all played at least 32 of 40 regulation minutes. And the bench unit failed to score a point in that win against the Los Angeles Sparks.

The reserves — Marquesha Davis, Kennedy Burke and Ivana Dojkic — bounced back Sunday by combining for 21 points in 48 total minutes.

“I’m not really concerned about it,” Jones said of the workload heading into the title game. “I feel like everybody in this league has kind of had to deal with a tough schedule and be able to bounce back. No one’s gonna feel sorry for us. We can’t feel sorry for ourselves. Not really any concerns about it.”

Injuries forced Cheryl Reeve to deploy just eight players last Monday against the Dallas Wings. But on Wednesday, Reeve had the luxury of resting key players while deploying five players off the bench for at least six minutes. Against the Mercury Saturday, six bench players eased the load, with four reserve players playing at least five minutes.

Edge goes to the Lynx.


This is where only one team — two-time defending champion Las Vegas Aces — can match the Liberty. On any night, opposing teams will have to go through MVPs Stewart, Jones and offensive juggernaut Ionescu. While Courtney Vandersloot (personal reasons, conditioning) has been away from action, Ionescu has been playing some of her best pro basketball. In the last three games, the guard averaged 27 points, 3.7 rebounds and 9.7 assists while shooting 53.7% from the floor and 48.2% from deep.

And her chemistry with Jones grows each game. The league’s best defenders have struggled guarding their pick-and-roll sequences all season. Jones’ clutch performances is the reason why the game in being held in New York and her two consecutive double-doubles going into the title game should give Minnesota’s bigs worries. Then there’s the reigning MVP Stewart, who’s averaging 19.9 points, 8.6 boards and 3.9 assists to start the season. And she’s on track to add another WNBA All-Defensive Team award. She left her coach and teammates in awe after swatting a career-high six blocks Saturday.

Lynx MVP candidate Collier is no joke, either. She’s in the midst of her best season while stuffing the stat sheet each night: 20.9 points, 10.4 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 2.3 steals and 1.4 blocks. And guard Kayla McBride has returned to All-Star form, giving the Lynx and one-two punch that lifts the team to second-best in points per game (84.5) and offensive rating (103.4) in the Western Conference.

But that’s where the drop-off in starpower comes in this matchup. Lynx guard Courtney Williams has been a nice pickup for Reeve’s squad, but didn’t do much damage to the Libs last month. Not to mention, Vandersloot and Betnijah Laney-Hamilton (knee) could return to action Tuesday.

Edge goes to the Liberty.

Since last matchup

The Liberty’s early season trend of sluggish first halves and quarter-long droughts led to the May 25 loss in Minnesota. At that time, Brondello’s revamped bench unit had yet to get comfortable in the new system; Jones had yet make herself an all-around Swiss Army Knife; and Kayla Thornton had yet to showcase herself as a viable nightly offensive threat she is now.

It’s a tale of two tapes from the Liberty a month ago to now. The offense is fluid, guards have figured out when to push in transition and when to utilize Jones as a half-court playmaker. And the lapses on defense have reduced. Since the Liberty allowed 84 points to the Lynx last month, they’ve only given up that many points three times in 12 games.

The Lynx still rank better than the Liberty in multiple defensive categories, but New York’s offense in its home state should be enough to secure the $500,000 prize pool.

While the Lynx enter Tuesday ranked higher in defensive rating, opponent’s field goal percentage allowed and opponent’s points per game allowed, the Liberty edge them in offensive rating, points per game and field goal percentage.

And if Vandersloot, who joined her team’s bench Sunday, and Laney-Hamilton, who has a week of rest, are good to go, that’ll be extra cushion for the reigning Cup champs.

Edge goes to the Liberty.