On a New York Liberty team with the recently-named MVP Breanna Stewart, Sabrina Ionescu, Betnijah Laney and Courtney Vandersloot, there were times throughout the season when Jonquel Jones was an afterthought. Sunday afternoon's Game 4 of the semifinals against the Connecticut Sun was not one of those times.
A trip to the Finals was up for grabs, and Jones was determined not to let it slip away. She turned in a performance that showed why she is a former MVP, finishing with 25 points, 15 rebounds and four blocks for a monster double-double that helped the Liberty secure an 87-84 victory and a 3-1 series win.
There have been eight games in WNBA playoff history where a player has had at least 25 points and 15 rebounds; Jones now has two of them. If you include the four blocks, that's only been done five times. As a result, the Liberty are on to the Finals for the first time since 2002, where they'll face the defending champion Las Vegas Aces in a long-awaited superteam showdown.
On the very first possession of Game 4, Jones grabbed a loose ball under the basket and drew a foul. She only made one of the two ensuing free throws, but the sequence foreshadowed what to come in a contest that was about effort and determination as much as talent.
Jones, and the Liberty, simply would not be denied on Sunday.
Save for a smooth turnaround fadeaway late in the third quarter, all of Jones' best work came from just that: work. Whether that was creating position under the basket, out-muscling multiple Sun players for offensive rebounds, or causing havoc on defense, Jones asserted herself time and again. Late in the fourth quarter, her persistence helped win the Liberty the game.
With a minute to play, the Liberty were clinging to a one-point lead and got the ball to Breanna Stewart near the elbow. She had the switch she wanted against Tiffany Hayes, but never got fully square to the basket and rushed her shot. While that was happening, Jones had maneuvered her way into the paint and somehow found a way to come up with the rebound in a sea of blue jerseys.
By the time the ball came off the rim, there were three Sun players inside the restricted area with Jones, yet she was the one that secured possession. The reward was a pair of priceless free throws, which Jones promptly knocked down to push the advantage to three.
Most players would have been exhausted from that effort, but down on the other end Jones was not thinking about taking a play off. The broadcast didn't quite capture her play in real time because it was still showing a replay, but Jones jumped the passing lane on an inbounds and poked the ball away for a steal. She then took off the other way and drew a foul on Alyssa Thomas, which earned her two more free throws -- both makes.
"I just do my free throw routine and go up there and shoot with confidence," Jones said. "I know my teammates have my back, so I'm confident up there."
All of a sudden the Liberty's lead was five, and Jones would extended it to six with another free throw a few seconds later. That proved to be enough, as they held on despite a pair of last-gasp 3-pointers by Tyasha Harris that gave the Sun a chance to send the game to overtime.
Jones is one of the biggest, most talented players in the league, and Game 4 was a reminder of the impact she can have when she's involved in the offense and playing with force. Both her, and the Liberty, would do well to remember that as they prepare for their biggest test yet.