NEW YORK — The New York Liberty have a perfect record to start the 2024 season, but they’ve yet to play a perfect game.

Now 4-0 with a 74-63 win over the Seattle Storm on Monday night at Barclays Center, the reigning WNBA runners-up have had some moments of sheer brilliance. The Liberty have also had stretches of missed shots, turnovers, and, as head coach Sandy Brondello put it, moments of becoming “too individual.”

The unfortunate truth is that when you start the season with four games in seven days, that’s going to happen. Especially without much of a preseason buildup. Asked before the game how she would characterize the team’s identity, Brondello hit on the one constant that has carried through the team’s highs and lows, toughness.

“We want to be tough,” she said. “Just bringing the toughness at both ends of the of the court, but particularly on the defensive end where we can be really aggressive, where we can be versatile with our switching because of the size that we have.”

Toughness has manifested itself on defense, without a doubt. Just look at how Jonquel Jones and Breanna Stewart went toe-to-toe with Aliyah Boston, or how Betnijah Laney-Hamilton hounded Caitlin Clark.

On offense, toughness has meant exercising patience and creativity. The Liberty outscored the Storm 42-24 in the paint on Monday and only two of those baskets were on fast-break layups. Stewart and Jones scored 16 apiece and had to battle for each one of them.

Sabrina Ionescu was the heartbeat of the team and posted a game-high 20 points with eight assists. She let her emotions take over (in a good way) twice. Once when she hit a three to cap a 50-second 7-0 Liberty run in the third quarter, forcing a Storm timeout, and the second time in the fourth quarter when she scored in the lane through a Sami Whitcomb foul.

Both instances sent the crowd of 9,381 into a frenzy.

“I honestly just feel like with the crowd, and especially playing at home, I think just capitalizing on the energy that we have here…that kind of just fuels the team, it fuels me,” Ionescu said.

Liberty facing fatigue

Thursday, May 16, 2024, during the Indiana Fever home opener game against the New York Liberty at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
Grace Hollars/IndyStar / USA TODAY NETWORK

Ionescu echoed similar sentiments from Stewart after the home opener on Saturday against the Fever.

Stewart pointed out after Saturday’s game that it’s the crowd that helps them tough out those slogs. Brondello admitted on Monday that now, in the final game of a brutal stretch to start the season, fatigue set in.

“We were tired. Four games in seven days to start the season,” she said. “Any given night someone else can step up for us. And Sabrina was the one that was giving us that energy tonight, getting downhill, making some shots.”

Brondello then praised Ionescu’s defense and later brought it around to the entire team. After taking a 27-15 lead at the end of the first quarter, the Liberty shot 3-14 in the second. But rather than letting the Storm back into the game, they buckled down to make it an ugly 9-9 period.

“In the past, we might have just crumbled a little bit and gave up 30 points, but we played as hard as we can because you can control what you can do on defense,” she said.

The Liberty won’t play again until Thursday when they face the Chicago Sky in Brooklyn. After such a busy week to start the season, which included games in three cities, two days may feel like a luxury. Brondello confirmed the team will take Tuesday off, but it might be tough for the team to take a mental break.

The Sky embarrassed the Liberty by 48 points on May 7 and despite it being a preseason game, the team remembers.

“It’s grueling, but you got to rest when you can because there’s not many days that you can have off,” Brondello said. “We'll come back on Wednesday and we'll refocus.”

That means not having a repeat of a game where they committed 24 turnovers and let the Sky shoot 52% from the field and 44% from three.

“We won’t let that happen again,” Brondello said. “We’ll be ready for it.”