If you need yet another example of how the playoffs are a completely different kind of animal, look no further than Game 1 of the WNBA semifinals between the New York Liberty and Connecticut Sun.
After being swept by the Liberty in four regular-season meetings, losing by an average of 15 points per game, the Sun punched the Liberty in the mouth in its semifinal opener, defeating the Eastern Conference’s No. 1 team 78-63 on Sunday afternoon at Barclays Center thanks to a massive 16-2 run to start the second half.
“It’s 0-0 when it comes to playoffs and we didn’t even think about the regular season,” Sun forward DeWanna Bonner said. “It’s a new season, that’s what we felt like. One thing about us, we don’t step outside of ourselves… we bring the same intensity.”
Bonner recorded a game-high 20 points while former Liberty guard Rebecca Allen went off for 18 points on 4-of-6 shooting from three-point range while shutting down New York star Sabrina Ionescu, who was held to just 12 points on 4-of-14 shooting.
“It’s pretty awesome,” Allen said. “It’s my first semifinal and to be playing my old team, there are a lot of things that are quite special to me.”
She wasn’t the only New Yorker to struggle. Breanna Stewart went 0-of-8 from three-point range while mustering 19 points.
Jonquel Jones, who was supposed to expose the Liberty’s biggest advantage over the Sun down low, was held to 14 points with 11 rebounds. Despite being undersized, Connecticut outrebounded the New York 35-30.
“[Jones] is a beast. She’s a monster on the boards,” Bonner said. “We know exactly what she’s doing. Of course, we’re a little undersized… but I think we did a good job holding it down and keeping her off the boards and she still ended up with 11 rebounds. You do as much as you can to limit here, she was an MVP before, and we’re going to keep battling her.”
The Liberty found itself in an early hole of nine points in the first quarter amidst a start that featured five uncharacteristic turnovers.
It was a former New York contributor, Allen, who paced the Sun’s fast start, posting 12 points on 5-of-7 shooting in the first half. She averaged just nine points per game in Connecticut’s first-round series win over the Minnesota Lynx.
“I wanted to be assertive and confident,” Allen said. “I feel like I started like that.”
But Ionescu and Jones managed to keep them in the mix early, recording 14 of the Liberty’s 21 first-quarter points, all while shrinking the deficit to five.
It wasn’t until late in the second quarter, though, — when Connecticut’s Tiffany Hayes picked up her third foul — that New York was able to overturn its deficit.
An eight-footer with 1:12 to go in the half from Breanna Stewart, who was limited to just eight points on 3-of-7 shooting in the opening 20 minutes, gave the Liberty a 38-37 lead — its first lead since 2-0.
Turnovers once again derailed the Liberty, though, as three giveaways helped spark a complete Sun blitz that developed into a 16-2 run to start the second half to open an 11-point lead
New York drew within five midway through the third, but two more big threes from Allen helped re-extend Connecticut’s advantage to 10 heading into the fourth.
“For us, it was constantly staying locked in and if mistakes happen, we keep battling,” Allen said. “To start the second half as strong as we did was huge.”
Five straight from Bonner a minute into the fourth put the Sun up 15 and well out of sight.