Sabrina Ionescu Hits Game-Winning 3 to Give Liberty Win vs. Kelsey Mitchell, Fever

Paul KasabianFeatured Columnist IIMay 15, 2021

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MAY 14: Sabrina Ionescu #20 reacts with Betnijah Laney #44 of the New York Liberty during the first half against the Indiana Fever at Barclays Center on May 14, 2021 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)
Sarah Stier/Getty Images

Sabrina Ionescu drilled a game-winning three-pointer with 0.4 seconds remaining to propel the New York Liberty to a 90-87 season-opening win over the visiting Indiana Fever at Barclays Center on Friday.

ESPN @espn

SABRINA FOR THE WIN. ICE COLD ❄️ pic.twitter.com/XEHFXemqGv

Ionescu's shot capped an 8-1 game-closing run for the Libs, who were down 86-82 with 47 seconds remaining after Kelsey Mitchell hit a two-pointer.

Ionescu responded with a three before Mitchell hit 1-of-2 from the free-throw line.

Bleacher Report @BleacherReport

SABRINA. CLUTCH. pic.twitter.com/k2klAd8QiE

The Libs point guard hit two free throws in response, and a traveling call against the Fever gave possession back to New York.

After a timeout, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 WNBA draft sent the Libs home as winners.

Ionescu had 25 points and 11 assists. Teammate Betnijah Laney led all scorers with 30 points, and rookie Michaela Onyenwere posted 18 points in her WNBA debut.

Mitchell's 23 points led the Fever, and Teaira McCowan had 22 points and 16 rebounds.

Notable Performances

New York Liberty G Sabrina Ionescu: 25 points, 11 assists

New York Liberty F Betnijah Laney: 30 points, 5 rebounds

New York Liberty F Michaela Onyenwere: 18 points, 5 rebounds

Indiana Fever C Teaira McCowan: 22 points, 16 rebounds

Indiana Fever G Kelsey Mitchell: 23 points, 4 rebounds

Indiana Fever F Jantel Lavender: 9 points, 10 rebounds

Ionescu Saves Libs at Last Second

"I wanted it."

That's how Ionescu started her postgame interview when asked what was going through her mind on the last Liberty possession:

Bleacher Report @BleacherReport

"I wanted it." - Sabrina Ionescu pic.twitter.com/aN6SkQpUyY

Some athletes are just built different, and that's the case for Ionescu, who proved to be a cold-blooded killer in just her fourth WNBA game.

A Grade 3 ankle sprain kept Ionescu out for 19-plus games of the 22-game regular season last year. She didn't waste any time making a significant impact in her 2021 season debut, as Matt Ellentuck noted:

Matt Ellentuck @mellentuck

sabrina ionescu in her 4th WNBA game:<br>- 25 points<br>- 11 assists<br>- 6 rebounds<br>- 2 turnovers<br>- one HOLY SHIT game-winning 3-pointer

Most importantly, her excellent offensive chemistry with her teammates was hard to miss, with Basketball Hall of Famer Rebecca Lobo noting the connection between Ionescu and Lacey:

Rebecca Lobo @RebeccaLobo

What I’ve learned during my layover in Detroit: The @nyliberty ‘s @sabrina_i20 and @BetnijahLaney are really good together. Fun to watch. #WNBA

Ionescu masterfully orchestrated the offense, though, getting her 10th assist to center Kylee Shook with 7:18 remaining in the third quarter:

New York Liberty @nyliberty

With this assist, @sabrina_i20 notched her first career double-double (10 pts, 10 ast) 🗽 pic.twitter.com/ypovwPyIcb

Overall, it was a sensational season debut for Ionescu and the Liberty, one that may foreshadow a playoff push for a team with tremendous offensive potential.


Mitchell, McCowan Nearly Lead Fever to Comeback

The Fever may have suffered a disappointing loss, but there were two big positives coming out of this game.

First, McCowan was an absolute machine on the boards, corralling 16 of the Fever's 45 for the night. New York struggled to gain traction on the glass, grabbing just 28.

Indiana Fever ⛹️‍♀️🏀 @IndianaFever

there's no stopping @Teaira_15 💪<br><br>11 PTS &amp; 7 REB in the first half #OurWayUnscripted | #IndianaFever pic.twitter.com/g55Pz2K7iu

The difference on the offensive glass was even starker, with the Fever grabbing 19 to the Liberty's three. McCowan and Jantel Lavender had 15 between the two of them.

Lindsay Gibbs of Power Plays noted McCowan's excellent performance:

Lindsay Gibbs @linzsports

wild that “starting Teaira McCowan and playing her lots of minutes” is turning out to be such a successful strategy

And Across the Timeline noted the historical impact of McCowan's evening:

Across the Timeline @WBBTimeline

A great game for Teaira McCowan despite the loss:<br><br>22 PTS<br>16 REB<br>2 BLK<br><br>It's just the 10th 20+ PTS / 10+ REB game in Indiana Fever history (Teaira has 3 of them).https://t.co/fDFHge38tk

Second, Mitchell was sensational, dominating the fourth quarter with 12 points in the final 7:03. She enabled the Fever to go on a 20-9 run that looked like it would be enough to give Indiana the win before Ionescu had other plans.

The left-hander was so smooth that she even got some respect from the Libs' Jazmine Jones following a long-range two-pointer:

Indiana Fever ⛹️‍♀️🏀 @IndianaFever

gotta respect it 🥶@Kelz_Hoop | #OurWayUnscripted pic.twitter.com/c57lLgWSIn

 She later hit a big two-pointer to give Indiana an 84-81 edge:

Indiana Fever ⛹️‍♀️🏀 @IndianaFever

ENERGYYYYYY 😤@Kelz_Hoop gives us a 3-point lead with 1:32 remaining!#OurWayUnscripted | #IndianaFever pic.twitter.com/sjTO3PwwLo

It wasn't meant to be for Indiana on this night, but the McCowan-Mitchell combination should be a forced to be reckoned with all season.


What's Next?

The Liberty and Fever will face off again on Sunday at 2 p.m. ET. Indiana will host the game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.