Breanna Stewart's Liberty even series with Alyssa Thomas' Sun after 'emotional' MVP reveal

New York Liberty star Breanna Stewart hoisted the 2023 WNBA MVP trophy in front of a rowdy Barclays Center crowd Tuesday evening ahead of Game 2 of the WNBA semifinals against the Connecticut Sun.

Stewart narrowly beat out Connecticut’s Alyssa Thomas, who finished seven points shy in MVP voting despite receiving more first-place votes than Stewart, to earn her second MVP award. It was the second smallest margin of victory in WNBA history.

Stewart may have won the battle for the MVP trophy, but her eyes are set on winning the war against Connecticut — and New York's first WNBA title. Connecticut stole Game 1 on the road in Brooklyn, but the Liberty were able to even the semifinal series against a highly motivated Sun team that came into Tuesday with some bulletin-board material after Thomas' perceived slight.

“We have to protect home court," said Sabrina Ionescu, who finished with 21 points in the Liberty's 84-77 win over the Sun.

New York Liberty forward Breanna Stewart shoots the ball against Connecticut Sun forward Alyssa Thomas.
New York Liberty forward Breanna Stewart shoots the ball against Connecticut Sun forward Alyssa Thomas.

Stewart got off to a slow start with only four first-half points, but started to heat up in the second half, recording a total of 11 points, 11 rebounds, five assists and a playoff-high five blocks.

It was a close contest heading into the fourth quarter with the Liberty up, 59-57. New York went on a 10-2 run to take a 10-point lead, the Liberty's largest of the game, after Stewart sunk her first 3-pointer of the series with 7:07 remaining. A pair of corner threes from Betnijah Laney quashed any run the Sun put together.

Connecticut's Tiffany Hayes made a driving layupto come within five points of the Liberty with 2:02 remaining, but Ionescu nailed two clutch free throws to extend the lead back to seven. Courtney Vandersloot made a layup with 36.2 remaining to seal the win.

All five Liberty starters finished in double figures; Ionescu scored 21 points, Laney 20, Vandersloot 19 points, Stewart 11 and Jonquel Jones 11, with 13 rebounds. The team shot 44.6% from the field and 10-for-26 from three. Laney was 5-for-7 from beyond the arc, after shooting 0-for-3 in Game 1.

Breanna Stewart #30 of the New York Liberty is awarded 2023 Kia WNBA Most Valuable Player against the Connecticut Sun during Game Two of the 2023 WNBA Playoffs semifinals at Barclays Center on September 26, 2023 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.
Breanna Stewart #30 of the New York Liberty is awarded 2023 Kia WNBA Most Valuable Player against the Connecticut Sun during Game Two of the 2023 WNBA Playoffs semifinals at Barclays Center on September 26, 2023 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.

It was not the revenge night Thomas was envisioning. She finished with 10 points, shooting 2-for-13 from the field.

DeWanna Bonner, who got engaged to Thomas in July, said Tuesday was a "really emotional day" for not only Thomas, but the entire team following the MVP announcement earlier in the day.

"No discredit to Stewie because she’s the MVP for a reason, but what Alyssa did this season was unbelievable. So of course the news was emotional. That was tough for her, it was tough for our team," Bonner said. "We came out and played for her tonight. We didn’t get the win but we are going to continue to play for her... That’s our teammate. That’s our leader. That’s our MVP. That's the one we rely on heavily. We love her, we are going to continue to support her. It was definitely a tough day for us. Especially for her."

Hayes, who led the Sun with a team-high 30 points, said Connecticut wanted "to show AT (Thomas) we were here for her."

"We are out here fighting for every play, every possession and especially for AT tonight," Hayes added.

Bonner added 19 points. Rebecca Allen got in foul trouble and was held to six points. Natisha Hiedeman, who temporarily left the court after throwing up on the bench, was held scoreless. Collectively, the Sun shot 39.7% from the field and 9-for-23 from three.

The 1-1 WNBA playoff semifinal series, which is best-of-five, now shifts to Connecticut for Game 3 on Friday.

Aces take 2-0 lead on Wings

LAS VEGAS (AP) – After saying it “hurt like hell” to just miss out on winning her third MVP, A’ja Wilson responded on Tuesday night with 30 points and 11 rebounds to help lift the Las Vegas Aces to a 91-84 victory over the Dallas Wings and 2-0 series lead in the WNBA semifinals.

The top-seeded Aces can close out the best-of-five series when it shifts to Dallas on Friday.

Las Vegas also received contributions from Chelsea Gray with 23 points and eight assists, Kelsey Plum with 18 points, and Jackie Young with 13 points and nine rebounds.

Arike Ogunbowale led No. 4 Dallas with 24 points, Natasha Howard had 20 points and 10 rebounds, Teaira McCowan added 12 points and 10 rebounds, and Satou Sabally scored 13 points.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: New York Liberty even WNBA semifinal series with Connecticut Sun