NEW YORK — New York Liberty coach Sandy Brondello said that for as upset as her team was with Wednesday’s stunning 28-point blowout loss to the Las Vegas Aces in Game 2 of the WNBA Finals, “It’s about action now … no f—ing feelings anymore.”
“We’re all disappointed, angry, embarrassed, with how we played,” Brondello told reporters Friday. “I think we have all those emotions, but it’s about action now, not emotion. It’s about what you can do. Not how you’re feeling … Feelings blind us, you know what I mean? It’s like, feel them and express them, and get them out. Now focus on what you can control — it’s actions, not emotions.”
The series swings east for Game 3 on Sunday, after the Aces went 2-0 on their home floor at Michelob Ultra Arena, positioning themselves one win away from repeating as WNBA champions. New York, meanwhile, is playing in the Finals for the first time since 2002 and is seeking the franchise’s first championship.
Despite a highly anticipated matchup between the two superteams, the Liberty who took the court for the start of the Finals have been unrecognizable from the team that basketball fans and the Liberty themselves watched most of the year. New York has been outscored by 48 points across the last six quarters of the Finals, and allowed the Aces to score a WNBA Finals-record 38 first-quarter points in Game 2. Las Vegas has scored 203 points in two games against a Liberty defense that ranked No. 3 in defensive rating in the regular season — and for the most part New York’s offense hasn’t been much better, either.
Brondello said she believes her team’s struggles have less to do with X’s and O’s and more to do with mindset and the Liberty not competing — something she didn’t view as an issue when they overcame tough matchups in the first round against the Washington Mystics and in the semifinals against the Connecticut Sun.
“I think that our mental was kind of all over the place,” two-time Finals MVP Breanna Stewart said about Game 2.
“We were f—ing s—,” Brondello added.
Brondello and Stewart reiterated that the Liberty deviated from what made them so good in the regular season and didn’t play how they’re capable. The new-look Liberty squad, which brought in Stewart, Jonquel Jones and Courtney Vandersloot in the offseason, narrowly finished No. 2 in the standings, behind Las Vegas, at 32-8.
New York fared much better against the Aces previously this season, handily beating them in the Commissioner’s Cup championship game and tying them in the regular-season series, 2-2.
“What I hadn’t seen is where we didn’t stick together,” Brondello said regarding her team’s poor start to the Finals. “We usually stick together.”
“Just be f—ing aggressive,” Brondello added. “It’s not that hard. Have some pride.”
Stewart, recently named league MVP for 2023, noted, “the first place we look is in the mirror,” and said in that self-reflection she found ways she wanted to hold herself accountable, particularly as a team leader.
“We’re all disappointed, angry, embarrassed, with how we played. I think we have all those emotions, but it’s about action now, not emotion. It’s about what you can do. Not how you’re feeling … Feelings blind us, you know what I mean? It’s like, feel them and express them, and get them out. Now focus on what you can control.”
Liberty coach Sandy Brondello
Stewart has struggled with her shot this postseason, hitting 36.4% from the floor and 20.5% from 3. She was held to 14 points on 6-for-17 shooting (1-for-6 from 3) in Game 2.
“Setting the tone,” Stewart said of what she wants to do better. “Understanding that I’ve been in these situations before and this is when I want to be my best and making sure that, yes, I’m going to take what the defense gives me but also I’m going to impose my will a little bit on both ends.”
Added Brondello: “They look to her, but she just needs to go out and be her, but having the mindset you can pull people along with you. ‘I gotta follow you, you just got to start it.'”
The Liberty are hoping they’ll get back to their brand of basketball now that they’re returning to their home court and have had a bit of a mental reset. Game 3 will be at Barclays Center, as would Game 4 (Wednesday) should New York win Sunday.
But the Liberty are focusing on the task at hand instead of fixating on their 2-0 deficit.
“We need to make sure that Game 1 and 2 don’t affect Game 3,” Stewart said, “and that we come in with that mindset that we’re ready to play, we’re ready to battle, we’re ready to do whatever it takes to make sure that we get this win on our home court.”
“We still have an opportunity here,” Brondello said. “We learn and we’re staying in the moment, but we’ve got to do what we’re supposed to do, and that’s how we can help each other.”
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