NY Liberty Shock Chicago Sky
NY Liberty Shock Chicago Sky

New York Liberty Shock Chicago in Tuesday Night Thriller

A strong shooting night guided the New York Liberty to an upset victory against one of the WNBA’s top contenders.

The New York Liberty ended a seven-game losing streak on Tuesday night, topping the Chicago Sky by a 101-99 final in the WNBA’s Bradenton bubble. Five players reached double figures for New York (2-12), who was paced by Amanda Zahui B’s double-double performance, as she earned 22 points and 12 rebounds in the victorious effort.

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“Chicago is really good. We could’ve lost that game on multiple occasions down the stretch,” head coach Walt Hopkins said after the game. “(But) we kept punching, we stayed in it. We’ve got a tough, tough group of players.”

The win over the Sky (10-5) snapped a seven-game losing streak for the Liberty, who split the bubble’s couple with the Eastern Conference leader. It marks their first regulation win in the series since July 2018. Chicago led by as much as 16.

Allie Quigley led the way for Sky with 29 points in defeat.

Three Fallin’

It’s no secret that the Liberty have made it a bit of a point to live and die by the three-pointer this season. They came in averaging just over 27 attempts per game and lived up to their billing with 30 tries on Tuesday. While making them was another story, head coach Walt Hopkins routinely expressed his approval of the continued attempts.

“We took 30 threes. I have to look at the film, but I’d say that most of them were really good looks,” Hopkins said. “What we look at in a loss or in a win, whether we make them or we miss them, is did we generate the types of shots that we want to generate going forward? We did, and we’ve done that a lot this year. But we really haven’t had a game where we’ve knocked them down.”

“I told them that we’re focused on growth for the coming years. We have to make the system work the way it’s going to work in the future. I don’t want them to stop shooting the three.”

Against the Sky, a team notorious for their own outside endeavors, the points finally started to tally. The Liberty’s 14 successful attempts were not only a season-high but tied a franchise-record originally set in a June 2010 win over Tulsa.

Overall, the Liberty shot 56 percent from the field, which was likewise a season-best. Tuesday also marked the first time the Liberty broke the century mark since July 2018, also in a win over Chicago.

Five for Fighting

Five players reached double-figures for the Liberty, equaling the tally they put up against Chicago in their first meeting on August 20…

Amanda Zahui B

The Amanda Show was received critical acclaim on Tuesday, as it was Zahui B’s efforts that sparked the Liberty comeback effort. It was her third three-pointer of the night, for example, that gave the Liberty the lead permanently in the penultimate minute in the third quarter. She provided a vital assist in the final stages, giving the Liberty a three-point lead in the final minute on a savvy assist to Kiah Stokes. After the shot went down, Zahui B let out a shout of

With 22 points (a season-high) and 12 rebounds, Zahui B earned her second double-double of the season. Each has come in a New York victory.

Layshia Clarendon

Clarendon’s recent endeavors have focused on her early exits from games. More recently, though, she earned some major attention for what she was able to do at the end of the game. She took the game over in its final four minutes, scoring eight points, capped off by the game-winning free throws with 0.3 seconds left on the clock.

Jocelyn Willoughby

Willoughby began the season on a strong note. When Sabrina Ionescu first went down, it was she, the tenth overall pick in April’s draft, who was called upon to take over in the starting five. However, Willoughby’s numbers had dwindled, playing an average of seven minutes over the last three games prior to Tuesday.

Given an extended opportunity against Chicago, Willoughby took full advantage, reintroducing herself to the WNBA with a perfect performance from the field (5-of-5 shooting) and tying her infantile career-best (14 points).

“That baby is tough. Jocelyn is so tough,” Zahui B said. “She wanted it so bad. She’s been locked in. She had a couple of games where she had more minutes and then she was taken off of the starting lineup and her minutes dropped. But she has never stopped working. She is probably one of the loudest people in practice. She always asks questions and she always wants to get better.”

“Jocelyn Willoughby was unbelievable tonight,” Hopkins said. “Scored in the post, three assists, 5-of-5 from the field, 3-of-3 from three. She’s been working so hard. Jocelyn is in every open gym opportunity. She does shots, she does workouts. She watches film ever day. She never misses a day, no matter if she’s played two minutes or 20. Jocelyn sticking that out and seeing that work in her favor, these are the moments that are really, really special.”

Kiah Stokes

Stokes is starting to find her hot hand after struggling in the season’s first half. Tuesday marked her third straight game in double figures and she’s shooting 55 percent in that span. Stokes was also 2-of-5 from three-point range, marking the first time her career that she has sunk at least two triples in back-to-back games.

Paris Kea

Kea was kept on the bench during Saturday’s loss to Connecticut but earned first quarter minutes during the tilt with the Sky. She responded with 10 points, tying a career-best that was ironically set against the Liberty in May 2019 as a member of the Fever. As the team continues to work their way through the bubble without Ionescu, Kea is proving to be a valuable took off the bench.

Deja Lou All Over Again

With so many players in double figures, it’s hard to believe that Jones wasn’t one of them. The final pick of the first round barely missed out on continuing her streak of games in double-figures but united with another Louisville alumna to create crucial plays that played a major role in the outcome.

Jones and fellow former Cardinal Kylee Shook united for 17 points in the win. Hopkins was hoping the latter would have a bigger impact on the rebounding but Shook still played a big role on the scoresheet, sinking a pair of momentum-shifting buzzer-beaters at the end of the first and third quarters.

“(Shook) hit a couple of shot-fake, pull-up jumpers that were the difference in the game. If she doesn’t hit those shots, who knows what happens.” Hopkins said. “I thought her ability to play big minutes down the stretch was so important so we could get Zahui and Stokes the rest they needed. That was a big thing tonight.”

While Jones missed out on continuing her streak, she played a huge part in setting up the game-winning points. After Stefanie Dolson tied the game for Chicago with 20 seconds remaining, Jones was the one who brought the ball up, withstanding full-court pressure and the shutdown of shooting lanes. Jones nonetheless got the ball to Amanda Zahui B, who sent the ball to a cutting Clarendon. The veteran was fouled by Dolson, setting up her winning free throws.

“I think the whole world knows they play great together. They have a beautiful chemistry,” Zahui B said of the pair. “They ran hard as hell tonight. Jazmine is just a dog, it’s what we expect from her.”

The Liberty return to action on Thursday night against the Dallas Wings (8 p.m. ET, YES/CBSSN)

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags