Jonquel Jones added 20 points and 12 rebounds to give New York its first home playoff victory since 2015. Game 2 of the best-of-three series is Tuesday night in New York. Given the three-day break, the Mystics are heading home between games.
Ionescu scored eight points in the third quarter, including the final five of the period with a deep three-pointer and then a floater in the lane just before the buzzer to give New York a 69-57 advantage. It was New York’s biggest lead of the game to that point.
The Liberty extended their advantage to 14 before Washington scored the next eight points to get within 71-65 on Brittney Sykes’ three-point play with 8:02 to play. That was as close as the Mystics got. Ionescu hit back-to-back threes over the next 80 seconds to restore the double-digit lead and whip the crowd that included Billie Jean King and Sue Bird into a frenzy.
“The basket felt really big when I was shooting,” said Ionescu, who had 20 of her points in the second half. “To win this first game at home is huge.”
Washington never threatened the rest of the way thanks in large part to the play of Ionescu, Jones and Betnijah Laney, who finished with 19 points.
“Transition threes are daggers, they do hurt,” Mystics guard Ariel Atkins said. “When you get them back-to-back, it takes the air out of the room. But I do think we had a chance down the stretch.”
Myisha Hines-Allen scored a playoff career-high 21 points and Sykes had 16 for the Mystics.
Breanna Stewart, the Associated Press Player of the Year, had a rough shooting night for New York. She missed her first five shots and didn’t score her first points until hitting two free throws with 7:25 left in the second quarter. Stewart finished with 10 points on 3-of-16 shooting. She averaged a career-best 23 points this season.
Stewart had a tip to Laney before the halftime buzzer to give New York a 46-42 lead — its biggest advantage in the first 20 minutes.