The New York Liberty struggled down the stretch, needing a win in their final game and plenty of help just to squeeze into the WNBA Playoffs. Now, the young team will face a daunting challenge on Thursday night as they head to Phoenix to play the Mercury in a winner-take-all, first-round matchup.
The Mercury easily qualified for the WNBA Playoffs, earning the No. 5 seed with a 19-13 record.
Liberty turning things around
Meanwhile, the Liberty finished just 12-20, winning a three-way tie for the final postseason spot over the Washington Mystics and Los Angeles Sparks. While New York’s record doesn’t look impressive, it represents a substantial improvement over 2020’s 2-20 campaign.
The Liberty finished each of the last two seasons with the worst record in the WNBA. That means any playoff appearance is a big step in the right direction.
“It would be a tremendous experience for us,” New York head coach Walt Hopkins told reporters prior to the Liberty clinching the No. 8 seed. “The amount of experiences we can get are so important for the development of the team. I would mean a lot to everybody.”
Hopkins has since acknowledged that a playoff berth wasn’t a “must-have” for the Liberty this season. But now that New York has reached the WNBA Playoffs, it will try to make the most of the opportunity. Young stars like 23-year-old guard Sabrina Ionescu and likely WNBA Rookie of the Year, Michaela Onyenwere, should gain valuable postseason experience, if nothing else. And the Liberty aren’t taking losing for granted on Thursday.
“Our last game gave us a really good amount of momentum and showed us what we are capable of when we are locked in for 40 minutes,” New York All-Star Betnijah Laney said, via the Brooklyn Eagle. “We just need to go out with the same mindset.”
Phoenix poised to make WNBA Playoffs run
Phoenix comes into the game as a 9.5-point favorite, according to FanDuel Sportsbook. It’s difficult to see how the Liberty will stop Mercury center Brittney Griner, especially without a true center in their rotation. Griner averaged 20.5 points and 9.5 rebounds per game during the regular season, and should put up big numbers against New York.
|WNBA Playoffs Odds – New York Liberty vs Phoenix Mercury (via FanDuel Sportsbook)|
|New York Liberty (+9.5): -102||Phoenix Mercury (-9.5): -120|
|New York: +410||Phoenix: -590|
|Over 165.5: -110||Under 165.5: -110|
The Liberty could get one break. Veteran Phoenix guard Diana Taurasi remains questionable for the first round of the WNBA Playoffs, as she’s suffering from a left ankle sprain that kept her out of the final four games of the regular season. Mercury coach Sandy Brondello is hopeful that her 38-year-old superstar will play, however.
“We’re always going to give her to the last minute to decide,” Brondello told reporters. “We’re trying to do whatever we can and give her as much time as possible.”
Thursday’s winner will face another single-elimination game in the second round against the Seattle Storm or the Minnesota Lynx. While the Liberty rate as a massive +15000 long shot to win the WNBA title this year, FanDuel gives Phoenix a fighting chance, listing the Mercury at +900 to take home the championship.