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Liberty vs Fever: Ionescu Shines, Berger Surprises



by Scott Jaracz

I grew up in the suburbs of Detroit, which made my introduction to basketball wonderful. The Pistons had a continued stretch of success and won a championship in 2004; it is still a memory ingrained in my mind. The Detroit Shock were even more successful, winning 3 championships in 6 seasons. However, WNBA basketball was never made a priority for my family. We heard the team was doing well, supported when we could, but we never learned the players or went to any games. Reflecting on this now, I’m quite devastated.

On Wednesday, July 12, my wife and I attended our second Indiana Fever game. We’ve made this trip into a mini-vacation for 2 years now. Indianapolis is nearly a 5 hour drive from mid-Michigan, so trying to catch a game and come home all in a day isn’t very feasible. I’m saying this to any WNBA higher ups: bring women’s basketball back to Detroit. This city thrives on support for our teams, and there hasn’t been a more successful Detroit team than the Shock in the past 20 years.

Game Summary

As we walked into Gainbridge, I foretold a massive game from Breanna Stewart, yet a Fever win. I was wrong on both accounts. This is why I stay as far away from gambling as possible. In reality, I thought the Liberty would cruise through the game, especially with the strange start time – 12pm to accommodate “Kid’s Day”. Despite a strong start from the Fever, this is exactly what happened.

Indiana was short-handed to begin with: starters Lexie Hull and Nalyssa Smith were injured during the Fever’s game this past Sunday. Neither suited up against the Liberty. This left Indiana starting Maya Caldwell and Victoria Vivians.

Looking at this “Lead Tracker” from, the Liberty didn’t worry about the hot beginning from the Fever. Though Jonquel Jones picked up 2 fouls within the first 2 minutes and change, New York didn’t falter. Nyara Sabally provided valuable playing time, Betnijah Laney was strong and consistent, and Sabrina Ionescu showed why she’s playing in the All-Star game this weekend.

The Liberty soared to a 20 point lead, and even while we were watching, they played so composed, it didn’t feel like the margin was ever that wide. Through 3 quarters, it was clear that the Liberty were going to cruise through the final 10 minutes. They opened up the 4th with a 15 point lead – 17 after a quick layup from Courtney Vandersloot, and Coach Sides called to the depths of her bench to make amends. Veteran big Emma Cannon and rookie guard Grace Berger played magnificently. They played the 4th quarter like they were on a playground at the park. There was energy, competitiveness, and they didn’t care that they weren’t supposed to win the game. They just went out and played.

That early bucket from Sloot in the 4th? That was the only field goal for the Liberty in the quarter. They survived on Free Throws and a few missed chances from Indiana. Berger, Wheeler, Vivians, Cannon, Boston – this was the lineup for nearly the entire 4th quarter, and it’s shocking not to see Kelsey Mitchell’s name. She’s an all-star, and one of the best 3 point shooters in the league. She’ll even be competing in the 3-point contest on Friday, July 14. But she watched her teammates break down this super team from the bench.

With less than 6 minutes remaining, the Fever were still down 16 points. They took one possession at a time, didn’t rush, and made smart, simple strategies work. Mismatches were taken advantage of, and when the Liberty forced possessions, the Fever forced turnovers. The comeback was on.

The Fever started playing the foul game around the 30 second mark, when Erica Wheeler made a quick move to the basket and finished through contact for an And-1. Down 1 with 12 seconds left, it took Indiana nearly 7 seconds to finally foul Ionescu, where she extended the lead to 3 with 6 seconds remaining.

The final play of regulation felt like a playoff moment. Wheeler took the inbound, made a strong push to the basket before kicking it out to All-Star starter Aliyah Boston, who set her feet, shot with confidence, and banged in a triple as the buzzer sounded. Poetically Justified, Boston even hit the shot over former MVP Jonquel Jones. The crowd was stunned and riled, Boston looked happier than on draft day, and we played 5 more minutes.

Overtime was like the other 3 quarters of the contest. The Liberty just seemed to know they were going to win. Mitchell remained on the bench; Indiana struggled to get shots to fall. 95-87 was the final in Indianapolis.

Player Highlights

Sabrina Ionescu: 34 pts; 6 reb; 5 ast; 7-14 3pt; 9-9 ft

  • Stewie just scored 43 last week, so it was Ionescu’s turn to show out before All-Star break. She was cold blooded throughout the game, especially down the stretch. She scored 8 points in overtime, including a heart wrenching 3 as soon as the extra period started. At the end of the 4th, she knocked down all of her free throws, without which, the Liberty may have lost. Ionescu has found her role amongst these other superstars, and she’s all the better for it. Her first few years saw her as the scorer, playmaker, rebounder, and captain. With all of that pressure to be her team’s heliocentric ball-handler gone, she’s free to be the best version of herself.

Grace Berger: 36 min; 15 pts; 7 reb; 4 ast; 3 stl; +1

  • Call it a “breakout” game for the number 9 overall pick out of Indiana, Berger had only logged over 10 minutes of playtime in three games this season. She played nearly the entire contest! Her 16 shots were the second most after Boston, but where she really shined was her defensive intensity. Berger’s strong stature and deceptively quick feet make her a defensive threat for this Fever team. She’s also a tremendous ball-handler. Even in the face of half-court traps from Stewie and Sloot, Berger showed no signs of panic. If I’m Coach Sides, I’m oohing and awing over this performance.

Betnijah Laney: 10 pts; 4 reb; 1 ast; 1 stl; +17

  • Throughout this offseason we heard the names of the newcomers and Sabrina Ionescu. We didn’t hear much about Laney, who may be the most important player on this Liberty team. She plays higher than her height would suggest. She’s listed at 6’, but plays like the biggest player on the court. She can guard any position, and she plays with reckless abandon. This leads to her best stat of the night: +17. When she was on the court, this team was winning. Plain and simple. She won’t get you 30 points a night, she’s not an exceptional passer. She’s a winner. If this team succeeds in the playoffs, look to the low numbers, but high impact from Betnijah Laney.



  1. Is there enough depth to beat the Aces?
  2. Is Jonquel Jones still elite?
  3. Should there be concerns over Stewie’s consistency?


  1. How does Berger’s performance impact rotations?
  2. Is Kelsey Mitchell too much of a defensive liability?
  3. What is Aliyah Boston’s ceiling? If she has one…

Next Steps

Liberty – This was an important game for both teams, but the Liberty came out in overtime looking like they’d been playing together for years. That was just the 18th game for the superteam. The most impressive part of the performance was the composure for New York. They let a 20 point lead slip away, they let rookies claw their way back and give hope to their teammates, but then they shut it down, returned to their gameplan, and closed it out. Coach Brondello should be more than pleased with her squad after reclaiming the lead in overtime.

Fever – Man, this is a tough loss. There’s so many things the Fever did well. They put the excuses of not having Smith and Hull aside and let players like Berger and Cannon have a moment. Emma Cannon, ClickClackCannon, you rock. A veteran who can enter the game in that situation, and rally her teammates, score big buckets, is invaluable. I get it. I’ve heard it a million times. There are no “Moral Victories” in sports. But for a team that had one of the worst professional sports seasons ever playing against a team slated to compete and maybe win a championship, this is a moral victory. Indiana found some identity this past Wednesday. There’s no way they make the playoffs. They might not even win 10 games. But they have depth and grit that was not there last season. I’m excited to watch the Fever come into their own in the 2nd half of the season.

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