Liberty erupt in second half to overcome 14-point deficit against Sparks

The Liberty erased a 14-point deficit to beat the Los Angeles Sparks, 96-89, at Barclays Center. Breanna Stewart led the way with a team-high 25 points to help her squad achieve their eighth straight victory.

It was a tale of two halves, with the Libs putting on a second-half three-point display led by an unlikely contributor: Stefanie Dolson.

Dolson played her regular role Thursday: giving head coach Sandy Brondello quality minutes while starter Jonquel Jones rests on the bench. But, the two-time All-Star added in a flurry of threes to catapult her team. She was perfect from downtown and made four in the fourth quarter to contribute to a stretch that included eight consecutive made treys. It also led the Libs to a 26-8 run to end the game. She finished the game 5-for-5 from deep while scoring 17 points and grabbing four boards in 12 minutes played.

Dolson almost looked confused while she walked back to the bench after her hot streak, as if she was doing something that wasn’t supposed to happen. Her teammates — on the floor and on the sidelines — freaked out and showered the veteran big with praise.

The Libs hit 17 total three-pointers in the game, which is one short of the WNBA record. It erased a sloppy first half and kept the team cruising as they head into the final game of the season.

The sloppy first half resulted in the Liberty being down seven at the half. But, Brondello and the team were lucky to not have had a bigger deficit considering the defense — or lack thereof — that was played.

The Sparks shot 50% (19-38) from the field and 54% (6-11) from behind the arc after the first two periods. Los Angeles looked comfortable at the point of attack while the Libs showed no resistance.

The game didn’t get out of hand due to Stewart’s 21-point first half. She kept the game close enough to keep her team within striking distance and Betnijah Laney contributed 11 in the first half to help with the scoring load. Laney finished with 20 points and seven assists.

Sabrina Ionescu wasn’t much help in the first half as her tough stretch since returning from a calf injury looked like it would continue. The guard, however, hit enough treys to surpass Diana Taurasi’s single-season three-pointers made record (121) in the third quarter. She finished with 16 points on an inefficient 5-for-15 from the field. She made four three-pointers on the night.

The Sparks fought all night, but relinquished the lead while lacking enough firepower to secure the win. A common theme for Curt Miller’s squad all season. Myriad injuries forced the Sparks to play with only eight players available. Forwards Nneka Ogwumike (knee) and Karlie Samuelson (abdomen) were ruled out on Thursday. Their DNPs forced them to miss the game alongside Chiney Ogwumike (foot), Karlie Lou Samuelson (maternity leave), Lexie Brown (non-covid illness) and Nia Clouden (knee).

The loss was costly, as it may have ended the Sparks’ playoff hopes. A Chicago Sky win over the Minnesota Lynx would eliminate Los Angeles from playoff contention. But, Miller having his team in the playoff race while dealing with injury reports that look like a CVS receipt at various points of the season is a credit to his coaching job — which could get him some votes for Coach of the Year.

Brown, who averaged 12 points per game this season, was a bright spot for the team but only made 12 appearances. Two-time All-Star Chiney Ogwumike played in just 10 games due to her foot injury.

On Sunday, Sparks guard Layshia Claredon recorded a career-high 30 points for her shorthanded team. Guard Rae Burrell contributed 18 points and two assists. Forward Azura Stevens finished with 18 points and eight boards on the night. The entire Sparks starting lineup scored in double-digits.

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