Much has been said about Breanna Stewart racking up 45 points to set the Liberty’s all-time single-game scoring record in only her second game with the team.
With six 3-pointers - four of them in the first quarter - she finished the game on 15-of-21 shooting. Her 29 points in the first half of Sunday’s home opener at Barclays Center firmly set the tone for the Liberty’s 90-73 blowout victory over the Indiana Fever, losers of a WNBA record-tying 20 in a row going back to last season. She even grabbed 12 rebounds, earning a double-double to cap off her great day.
Stewart rightly deserved every headline and interview that came as a result of her powerful performance - including the crowd’s passionate“MVP! MVP! MVP!’ chants heard late in the third quarter.
With that said, let’s not overlook what Sabrina Ionescu did in this contest. She had eight assists. It may not be something to brag about, but that’s missing the point here. It’s about how unselfish she was.
In the three years she has played in the WNBA, she is more of a facilitator. She wants to make others better. She is a point guard in so many ways. She can score if she wants to and boost her point total. In a way, she is a pure basketball player. It’s not just about scoring. It’s about finding the open player to score.
Here’s an example of how unselfish Inocesu is: When she had the ball, she could have made a beeline to score earlier in the first quarter, but instead passed the ball to Stewart, who shot her first three of the game, giving the Liberty a 5-0 lead.
She did it again when she found an open Courtney Vandersloot, who scored to give the Liberty a 7-2 lead.
She had four assists when the Liberty took a 36-14 lead in the first quarter.
The eight assists do not tell the story of how great she was on the court. It was getting a +20 when the offense was functioning well with her setting up the offense as a facilitator. This is why Ionescu should stand out: she ran the offense so well by deferring to others rather than being the go-to scorer. It could have been easy for her to want to be a star in the home opener.
Instead, she let Stewart have her day on the court.
The Liberty has built a super team to make use of Inocesu’s playmaking skills. No doubt players in the league noticed it, which explains why Stewart was more than happy to leave Seattle to play with her and why Vandersloot (free agent signee) and 2021 WNBA MVP Jonquel Jones (acquired in a trade) wanted to play with the Liberty during this offseason.
Inocesu should benefit from it now that she has such talented teammates to work with. It certainly showed in this game, and it will only get better once they all discover some chemistry as her new teammates.
The fourth-year Liberty star had a good eye on where Stewart would be on the court to shoot well. She just knew how to find Stewart’s sweet spot that would put her in a position to shoot. It’s that vision that stands out about her.
She also knows how to extend plays in a possession.
Inocesu’s teammates followed her lead by having 28 assists with 21 coming in the first half, which would give the Liberty a 62-35 lead over the Fever at halftime.
Vandersloot could have scored more than 11 points had she wanted to. Instead, she dished out eight assists. She wanted to make the same impact as Inocesu in running the offense.
It’s refreshing to see this type of basketball rather than watching teams hoist up ridiculous 3-point shots or play iso-ball. Watching the Liberty play was such a beautiful sight after watching the Knicks and Nets play awful basketball this season.
It’s a great credit to Inocesu for making a local basketball team so much fun to watch, and Liberty owner Joe Tsai deserves credit for spending money to make use of Inocesu’s passing skills by getting Stewart, Vandersloot and Jones to have her work with.
With the way the Liberty ran their offense, it was stunning how they struggled to score or run an offense in their 80-64 loss to the Mystics on Friday night. Part of it comes from Stewart, Vandersloot and Jones not playing together with Inocesu during training camp.
Still, basketball is basketball and talent is talent. Great players always find ways to figure it out.
The Liberty can only get better, and if they do, this is one superteam that can actually work out, unlike the NBA team in Brooklyn.
All of this can be traced back to Inocesu’s impact as we saw on Sunday.
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