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Jonquel Jones' rising play powers Liberty to home-court advantage in Commissioner's Cup Final

Fiifi Frimpong, New York Daily News on

Published in Basketball

NEW YORK — The New York Liberty are set to defend their Commissioner’s Cup championship on their home floor in two weeks largely due to the recent play of their star center Jonquel Jones.

With starting guard Courtney Vandersloot (personal reasons) unavailable and center Nyara Sabally (back) unable to aid the frontcourt, it’s been Jones who has stepped up another level to lead the Liberty to an undefeated 5-0 record in Cup games during a brutal six-game, 10-day stretch.

Her two-way play in Saturday’s matchup against the Connecticut Sun, the WNBA’s last undefeated team, gave a reminder of why Jones is the former league MVP (2021). Jones rattled in two treys during the final minutes while limiting the Sun to 1-for-16 shooting on attempts defended by her, per ESPN.

And in Sunday’s five-point win over the Washington Mystics, Jones scored a season-high 29 points while shooting 4-of-5 in the fourth to secure home-court advantage in the Commissioner’s Cup Final.

Jones is showing glimpses of her MVP self thus far in the 2024 campaign. And her versatility is turning the Liberty into an even more dominant superteam.

“She’s able to find me really well. She’s setting great screens. She’s coming into her own,” Sabrina Ionescu said about Jones Sunday. “For her to play like this after the stretch of games that we’ve had — she’s been battling on the defensive end. She’s been anchoring us offensively as well. I feel like … she’s taken us a completely different level than we have been these last few games.”

Ionescu highlighted Jones’ flashy behind-the-back pass to Leonie Fiebich that led to a trey on Sunday as an example of how comfortable the versatile big has gotten within the offense.

“She’s able to block a shot, come down, run the floor, get a layup. Her threes. She’s just able to do everything and you can rely on her to do that,” Ionescu added.

Her skillset wasn’t always on display during her first season with the Liberty in 2023. Following an offseason trade from the Sun, Jones had to get acclimated to a new city and learn a new system while returning from a foot injury sustained in the prior postseason.

“Well, I’m in better shape, obviously,” said Jones, who is averaging 15.5 points, 8.8 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.6 blocks through 13 games. She averaged 10.4 points, 7.6 rebounds, 1.5 assists and and 1.6 blocks through the first 13 games of the 2023 season.

“Everything was new last year. So it was just figuring things out and figuring my teammates out. Now it’s less of that and way more chemistry.”

 

Her emergence has come at a perfect time for the Liberty. Her dominance on the glass against the Indiana Fever (13 boards) and Chicago Sky (12 boards), the league’s fourth-best rebounding team, lifted the Liberty to the first two Cup game victories.

The final three Cup games against the Atlanta Dream, Sun and Mystics were turned into block parties. Jones swatted at least two shots in those matchups while averaging three per game.

The team has looked to Jones in stretches where the offense struggles to find rhythm, a reoccurring theme throughout the Liberty’s first 13 games. And her ability to space the floor to knock down open shots and facilitate for teammates has been a welcome sign as the team is unsure when Vandersloot will return to the lineup.

After back-to-back losses to end May, the team is currently on a seven-game in streak. Head coach Sandy Brondello is enjoying the progress from each game.

“Really good. I thought we took a lot of steps forward,” Brondello said after the team’s brutal 10-day stretch. “After the two losses that we had, it was more of a wake up call more than anything.”

Jones’ recent play locked the Liberty as the Eastern Conference’s lone undefeated team in Cup play. They’ll await their Western Conference opponent, who’ll travel to Barclays Center for the Commissioner’s Game Cup Final on June 25.

Western Conference finalist

With one Cup game remaining, the Phoenix Mercury and Minnesota Lynx entered Tuesday tied with a 3-1 record. Each team plays five Commissioner’s Cup games. The Mercury own the head-to-head tiebreaker after defeating the Lynx last Friday.

The Seattle Storm entered Tuesday 0.5 games back with a 2-1 record.

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©2024 New York Daily News. Visit nydailynews.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

 

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