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Liberty 88, Lynx 69: The Sabrina Ionescu Show Rolls On

Sabrina Ionescu led the Liberty with a 26-point near triple double to sink the Lynx.

Minnesota Lynx v New York Liberty Photo by Catalina Fragoso/NBAE via Getty Images

There are few players in the WNBA who can swing a matchup at a moment’s notice.

New York Liberty point guard Sabrina Ionescu is one of those players capable of blowing the doors off of a game, as the Minnesota Lynx were reminded of tonight.

After a competitive first half that featured excellent Minnesota ball movement (before it was mired by a series of Lynx turnovers and foul trouble in the guard rotation), Ionescu wasted no time grabbing control of the game.

The former Oregon superstar and 2020 No. 1 pick scored 13 points in the third quarter alone on 5/5 shooting, including three back-breaking 3s that caused a Barclays Center eruption and firmly put the game out of reach mid-way through the frame.

Ionescu exited for the night late in the third with a game-high 26 points on 10/11 FG and 4/4 3PT to go along with eight rebounds, eight assists and just two turnovers in 26 minutes of action.

She got some help from emerging young center Han Xu, who set a new career-high with 15 points to go along with five boards in 25 minutes of play.

Even though the Lynx evidently struggled to string stops together, especially the real problem was its failure to score on the offensive end. After scoring 19 points on 6/13 shooting in the first quarter, Minnesota shot just 16/54 (29.6%) over the final 30 minutes.

Minnesota shot just 3/19 (16%) in the third quarter and failed to get Sylvia Fowles a shot attempt after Fowles registered 10 points on 4/7 shooting in the first half.

New York outscored the Lynx 29-11 in the third quarter by way of a 25-7 run over the final 7:50 of the quarter after Ionescu setting off a fiery chain-reaction that permeated throughout the team not only offensively, but also on the defensive end as well.

The offensive struggles were once again present only outside of Fowles and Kayla McBride, who have been the team’s two most consistent contributors on a nightly basis. After tying her career high with 27 points in a win over the Liberty on Sunday, Aerial Powers struggled to regain that form tonight. New York was much more physical with her at the point of attack and gave her little room to operate in the mid-range, resulting in Powers scoring 11 points on 3/12 shooting.

Minnesota Lynx v New York Liberty Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

Another driving force behind the team’s ineffiency was foul trouble. Starting point guard Rachel Banham and backup point guard Kamiah Smalls each were on the bench with two fouls after 4:39 of play. As a result, the team struggled to find a rhythm from a playmaking standpoint because Powers and rookie Evina Westbrook were forced into primary ball-handling roles. Neither player looked comfortable, but much of that is due to how stout the Liberty’s perimeter defense was. At full strength, they would likely be the team’s fourth and fifth options as lead initiators.

Moving forward, Minnesota simply has to find a way to generate cleaner offense in the half-court to force opponents to take the ball out of the basket in order to prevent transition looks. They have been terrific with getting to the line — as they were again tonight by going 22/26 (84.6%) from the free throw line — but that cannot be their primary source of offense, and they cannot try to out-score teams, if they want to climb back up the standings before it’s too late.

Getting starting point guard Moriah Jefferson back should help. She was upgraded to doubtful for tonight’s game before being ruled out, suggesting she is progressing well from a left quadriceps strain that was reportedly supposed to be a 10-14 day injury. Friday would mark 10 days since the injury and is also the next opportunity for Jefferson to make her much-needed return to action.

Minnesota’s two days off will be a big help for Jefferson, as well as forwards Natalie Achonwa (right hamstring strain) and Damiris Dantas (Lisfranc injury), who are each working their way back to returns.

Next up for the Lynx is a home matchup with the Washington Mystics on Friday at 7 PM at Target Center. Fans can watch the game on Bally Sports North Extra.