Breanna Stewart, Betnijah Laney lead Liberty to brink of WNBA Finals

UNCASVILLE. Conn. (AP) — New York is one win away from returning to the WNBA Finals for the first time in more than two decades.

Breanna Stewart had 25 points and 11 rebounds, and the Liberty beat the Connecticut Sun 92-81 on Friday night to take a 2-1 lead in their best-of-five semifinal series.

Betnijah Laney scored 20 points, Sabrina Ionescu had 16 and Courtney Vandersloot added 12 for New York, which never trailed. The Liberty can close out the series Sunday on the same court.

Stewart, the league MVP, had struggled from the floor in the series, missing her first 11 3-point attempts in the first two games. She had 11 points in Game 2 and surpassed that total in the first quarter on Friday with 12, helping the Liberty take a 37-16 lead after 10 minutes.

“She was at her very best tonight,” Liberty coach Sandy Brondello said. “She's the MVP.”

It was New York’s highest-scoring quarter ever in the playoffs.

Alyssa Thomas fell one rebound short of a triple-double for Connecticut, finishing with 23 points and 14 assists. She had a record six triple-doubles during the regular season. Tiffany Hayes scored 16 points and Olivia Nelson-Ododa added 14 for the Sun.

The Liberty dropped the opener 78-63 on their home court — their only loss to the Sun all year — but bounced back to win Game 2, 84-77.

They led by as many as 22 points in the first half of this one and by 14 at halftime.

The Sun got within 70-61 in the third quarter on a layup from Nelson-Ododa and trailed 72-61 going into the fourth.

But a 3-pointer from former Sun star Jonquel Jones put the Liberty ahead 80-63 and Connecticut could not catch up.

Jones finished with 10 points and 12 rebounds, giving her a double-double in all five of New York's playoff games.

“Going into a deficit like that in the first half, you have to expend a lot of energy trying to fight our way back and claw back,” Nelson-Ododa said.

Ionescu hit her first four shots, the first three from behind the arc.

Laney gave New York a 48-26 lead midway through the second quarter. The Sun closed the half on an 8-2 run and trailed 54-40 at halftime.

Connecticut guard Rebecca Allen, who had 18 points in Game 1 and six in Game 2, missed the game with an illness.

“You certainly miss Bec's length and versatility on the defensive end of the floor,” Connecticut coach Stephanie White said. “You miss her ability to knock down shots offensively.”

New York is looking for its first Finals appearance since 2002. Connecticut hopes to return there for a second consecutive season. Both teams are seeking their first championship.

“This one tonight put momentum back on our side,” Stewart said.

Stewart added that the team's thoughts were with the people of Brooklyn, who were dealing with flooding after a storm dropped up to 7 inches of rain on parts of New York City.

“We'll try and do something when we get back to see how we can help our community," Stewart said. “But the first way we helped them was getting this win.”