MVP chants rang out throughout Barclays Center on Tuesday night during the Liberty’s Game 2 semifinal matchup against the Sun, rattling the arena’s floors after an emphatic third-quarter block from Breanna Stewart brought a boisterous Liberty crowd to its feet. Rumbles of MVP have followed Stewart all season long, but this time it wasn’t a wishful chant, rather a statement of fact. Earlier that day, the New York star was announced as the 2023 WNBA MVP—the first Liberty player to receive the honor.
Brooklyn was certainly in a celebratory mood following the news, with Liberty great Teresa Weatherspoon narrating a video dedicated to Stewart that played over the scoreboard, New York players donning Stewie-themed warmup shirts and a pregame ceremony for the new MVP assembled at half-court. But, trailing Connecticut 0–1 in the series, there was more work to be done for Sandy Brondello’s team. Determined to keep the Stewie parade rain-free, the Liberty pulled out a gritty 84–77 victory, leveling the series as it heads to Mohegan Sun Arena.
Adding to the drama of the evening, Stewart & Co. were facing down a Sun side led by Alyssa Thomas, who finished second in a tight MVP race, despite receiving 23 first-place votes to Stewart’s 20. “It’s been an unbelievable season as a whole for the WNBA,” said Stewart. “Really to see what all the top players have done, it’s only going to continue to make this league shine brighter and be better. And the fact that there’s multiple people in the conversation—obviously AT and A’ja [Wilson] had amazing seasons, just showed that we’re reaching new heights and we’re doing things that have never been done before, and we’re continuing to show that greatness shines in many different ways.”
All eyes may have been on Stewart and Thomas in Game 2, but it wasn’t the top MVP vote-getters who broke out for their respective teams. In fact, both players struggled to make an impact. Stewart’s first bucket didn’t come until the second quarter, draining two from the free throw line to end her scoring drought. She finished the night 3–13 from the field, with 11 points and 11 rebounds, while Thomas notched 10 points and eight rebounds.
“It was hard for Stewie, a very emotional day for her. It’s not easy to win MVP,” said Brondello. “For AT, that’ll be motivating for the other team, but they’re both worthy of MVP, it could’ve gone either way. They’re lifting the standard of this league with how they play."
It was a taxing evening for Thomas as well. “It was tough for her, for our team,” said Sun forward DeWanna Bonner. “We didn’t get the win, but we’ll continue to play for her. That’s our leader, our MVP, and we love her."
With the MVP cloud blanketing the contest, other players managed to shine through, including Connecticut’s Tiffany Hayes, who logged a game-high 30 points, and Betnijah Laney, who was the difference-maker for New York. Erupting down the stretch, Laney put up 20 points, while pulling down four rebounds to help maintain the Liberty’s fourth-quarter lead. Brondello applauded her performance after the game, even declaring “We don’t win today” without Laney.
It was an impressive turnaround for New York, one the Liberty were keen to put on for their home crowd after a 15-point defeat Sunday. Barclays Center has quickly emerged as one of the rowdiest environments in the W—with Rebecca Allen even admitting it was hard to hear the Sun’s coverages called out on the court—and the electricity is only building through the postseason. Of the 10,009 fans that descended upon Brooklyn on Tuesday night, there were several of note, including an eclectic group of public figures in Fran Lebowitz, G-Eazy, Tierra Whack, Remy Ma, Common and Alicia Keys. Liberty games have quickly become the hottest ticket in town, and the anointed superteam will hope to not only ride the enthusiasm but live up to the hype.
As the deadlocked series moves to Connecticut, and the MVP dust settles, one team has a chance to grab hold of the momentum. Expect the physicality to continue and Game 3 to be high-octane, but it would be ill-advised to bank on Stewart and Thomas remaining quiet.