Early successful the 3rd 4th of Friday's 2021 WNBA play opener betwixt the New York Liberty and Indiana Fever, erstwhile No. 1 wide prime Sabrina Ionescu banked successful a 3-point heave as the changeable timepiece winded down to one.
The fortuitous bounce prompted a wry grin from Ionescu arsenic she jogged backmost connected defense.
In the last seconds of a necktie crippled successful the 4th quarter, the erstwhile Oregon prima came disconnected a stagger surface with somewhat much conviction, draining a contested changeable implicit a closing Jessica Breland, lifting the Liberty to a 90-87 win.
Ionescu scored 13 of her 25 points successful the 4th quarter, carrying the Liberty to triumph successful conscionable her 4th crippled arsenic a professional. The second-year guard missed the last 19 games of her rookie play with an ankle injury. Ionescu showcased her all-around quality throughout, adding 11 assists and 6 rebounds.
"Well, she's an outstanding player," Indiana Fever manager Marianne Stanley said of Ionescu. "We kept her nether wraps for 3 quarters of the crippled and past successful the 4th quarter, arsenic soon arsenic she made 1 changeable it astir benignant of ignited the remainder of the 4th for her. She's a terrific subordinate and made a large changeable erstwhile they needed her to marque one."
Ionescu and Indiana Fever defender Kelsey Mitchell (23 points) held a back-and-forth conflict successful the fourth. Mitchell seemed to reply each 1 of Ionescu's baskets down the stretch. The fourth-year defender scored 7 of 9 points during a 9-2 tally successful the fourth. Her jumper disconnected a Danielle Robinson bargain tied the crippled astatine 75 with 4:10 near successful the game.
Ionescu came done successful the clutch with the crippled connected the line, but the Fever could not execute with a accidental to seal the win.
After a brace Ionescu escaped throws tied the crippled astatine 87 with 21 seconds left, the Fever held the shot with the timepiece ticking down, looking to instrumentality the last changeable of the game. Robinson waited for Mitchell to enactment her whitethorn done a bid of screens, but the Liberty defended good arsenic erstwhile Fever defender Betnijah Laney contested hard connected Mitchell's catch. The choky defence forced Mitchell to travel, mounting up Ionescu's winning shot.
"Obviously the ref called a call. ... I deliberation I tin beryllium amended adjacent clip successful knowing however to situationally beryllium different, beryllium better," Mitchell said. "It being the archetypal crippled I deliberation we cognize what it takes to bushed a bully New York team. They're precise amazing. Hopefully we tin springiness them 1 connected Sunday."
The Fever dominated connected the interior with halfway Teaira McCowan starring the mode with 22 points and 16 rebounds. Veteran guardant Jantel Lavender added 9 points and 10 rebounds successful her Fever debut.
Indiana outscored New York 50-to-26 successful the overgarment and had a 45-to-28 vantage successful rebounding, but the Liberty's beardown shooting from the extracurricular overcame their deficiencies inside. The Liberty changeable 13-of-26 from 3, portion the Fever changeable conscionable 3-of-18 down the line.
"You decidedly person to premix successful more three balls," Fever guardant Jessica Breland said. "Getting the rebounds that we got, we should person won the game."
The Fever struggled defending the 3 and they struggled defending the pick-and-roll. Laney exploited the Fever's pick-and-roll defence early, scoring 20 of 30 points successful the archetypal half. Rookie Michaela Onyenwere added 10 of her 18 points successful the archetypal fractional arsenic well.
The Fever bash not person overmuch clip to dwell connected the pugnacious loss. They'll question location to Indiana to look the Liberty aon Sunday.
Follow IndyStar sports reporter Akeem Glaspie connected Twitter astatine @THEAkeemGlaspie.