Friday night was not Sabrina Ionescu’s first WNBA game, but it really might as well have been. Last year’s No. 1 draft pick only made three appearances in the Wubble last summer, and her rookie campaign came to an abrupt end on July 31 when she suffered a severe ankle sprain.
Ionescu’s first game in New York was worth the wait. In the first game of the WNBA season, the former Oregon star showed that she’s more than ready for the big stage of the league’s biggest market.
The pressure on Ionescu is obvious. In the league’s 25th anniversary season, New York is one of three original WNBA cities that still has its franchise, and the only one of the three without a championship. Los Angeles and Phoenix each have three, trailing the four apiece for Minnesota, Seattle, and since-folded Houston. The Liberty did go to four of the first six WNBA Finals, but lost three times to the Comets and once to the Sparks, and haven’t been back since.
After going a combined 19-71 over the past three seasons, including 2-20 last year, the Liberty have a fresh start in Brooklyn, and Ionescu made sure it was an auspicious beginning with a last-second shot to beat the Indiana Fever, 90-87.
Ionescu finished her home debut with 25 points, 11 assists, and six rebounds, showing that she remains the same kind of triple-double threat in the pros that she was in college, where she holds the NCAA career record.
Bentijah Laney scored 30 points to lead the Liberty, while Michaela Onyenwere, the No. 6 pick in this year’s draft, added 18 points with five rebounds in her WNBA debut. Kylee Shook, the center who took the inbounds pass, got the ball back to Ionescu, and set the high screen that set up the winning shot, was the Liberty’s second-round pick last year.
The Liberty will miss Asia Durr again this season, but with Ionescu leading their young core, it does look like New York will be relevant for the first time in years, or at least on the rise toward contending again. As much as the WNBA has thrived without a powerful New York team, the potential of having a young superstar on the Liberty is huge for the league. And now Ionescu has her first superstar moment.