The first half of Sabrina Ionescu’s season was marked with inconsistency. She had multiple single-digit scoring efforts — five points on June 2, and then four on June 4 in two games against Chicago — followed by a 37-point eruption against Atlanta just days later.
Through the early part of the 2023 season, that seemed to be the formula: remarkable point production one day, and a disappearing act another. Then came two things that have changed the trajectory of the New York Liberty guard’s season: an NBA2K cover and a 3-point contest.
Since a record-breaking performance in the 3-point competition during WNBA All-Star weekend, Ionescu has become unstoppable and, more importantly, consistent. And, as the Las Vegas Aces learned again in an 82-63 loss in the Commissioner’s Cup championship game on Tuesday night, the rest of the league is paying for it.
“I’m just playing basketball,” Ionescu told reporters on Aug. 6. “I’m just continuing to trust my shot and my shooting ability.”
SABRINA IONESCU WITH BACK-TO-BACK THREES FROM DEEP‼️ pic.twitter.com/HwQa7KtOxA— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) August 16, 2023
SABRINA IONESCU WITH BACK-TO-BACK THREES FROM DEEP‼️ pic.twitter.com/HwQa7KtOxA
In July, Ionescu was announced as the cover athlete for the 2024 WNBA edition of NBA 2K24. Diana Taurasi and Sue Bird graced the cover last year, and Candace Parker was featured on the video game in 2021.
For Ionescu, it was a rewarding moment.
“It’s a pretty humbling experience,” Ionescu told The Athletic in July. “Just knowing that I stand for a lot more than just representing my team and the league, but also just continuing to inspire the youth, and knowing that a lot of kids that are gonna play this game will one day dream to be on the cover as well. That’s really what’s important to me and what I want my legacy to be.”
The response from fans and fellow WNBA players wasn’t as positive. Players like Kelsey Plum and Rhyne Howard tweeted that A’ja Wilson deserved to be on the cover. Wilson’s resume includes two WNBA MVP awards, five All-Star appearances, a Defensive Player of the Year award and a WNBA Championship.
Ionescu didn’t respond directly to the criticism, but her play on the court has made a statement.
Since the All-Star break, the former No. 1 draft pick has made 50 3-pointers (3.8 makes per contest), continuing a hot shooting streak that started during her historic performance in the 3-point contest. The 25-year-old ran away with that competition, scoring 37 points — the most for a WNBA or NBA player in a 3-point contest. Then, she knocked down five 3-pointers in the All-Star Game.
SABRINA REFUSES TO MISS 🚨 pic.twitter.com/CwxdI9nrdq— Just Women’s Sports (@justwsports) July 14, 2023
SABRINA REFUSES TO MISS 🚨 pic.twitter.com/CwxdI9nrdq
Ionescu was already shooting the ball well going into the break — she had made 54 3s over the first 16 games — but now, the fourth-year guard is doing it with consistency and stepping up in big moments.
Take her team’s three games against first-place Las Vegas as examples. In their first meeting in June, Ionescu scored just seven points as the Aces recorded a lopsided victory, 98-81. In their second game after the All-Star break, she led the Liberty with 31 points on 6-for-10 shooting from beyond the arc. That time it was New York who came away with a blowout win, 99-61.
“I come out every game with the same mentality and that is to do my job and to do it to the best of my ability,” Ionescu said afterward. “Tonight I understood that we were going up against the best team in the league. There is no room for error, no room for not being locked in and wanting to win every single possession.”
The third meeting was quieter for Ionescu, as she finished with 12 points in last night’s Commissioner’s Cup championship victory, but her points came just when New York needed them most. She connected on three 3-pointers in the fourth quarter to help the Liberty seal the win. Las Vegas was down just eight points heading into the final frame, but that New York advantage ballooned to 19 with help from Ionescu’s 3s, including two on back-to-back possessions to put the game out of reach for the Aces.
That’s a good sign for the Liberty, who now lead the season series with Las Vegas 2-1. If they want to bring New York its first WNBA Championship this season, Ionescu will need to continue stepping up in big moments.
Eden Laase is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @eden_laase.