Liberty’s Furious Comeback Comes Up Short

The celebration will have to wait until Sunday. Barely.

Down 21 in the third quarter, the Liberty almost pulled off the greatest comeback in franchise history before falling 94-89 to the Connecticut Sun on Pride Night at The Garden.

When Shavonte Zellous powered in a layup with 1:06 left, the game was tied 86-86 and the 10,240 fans were turning the “Mecca of Basketball” into a sound asylum. But the Sun scored six straight points to hold on.

The Liberty was determined to kick off Pride Weekend by extracting a bit of payback by avenging the only loss they suffered in the month of June, a 96-76 shellacking while visiting the Connecticut Sun on June 14.

Connecticut, the best three-pointing shooting team in the WNBA, made 9-of-18 threes in the first half to seize an 18-point lead. The Liberty cut it to 49-42 early in the third before the Sun responded to take a seemingly insurmountable 70-49 lead with 1:59 left in the third.

That’s when the Liberty showed some pride and grit.

They went on a 37-16 roll to tie it. What was supposed to be a tipoff to a celebratory weekend will have to wait until Sunday.

New York’s largest comeback ever came on August 21, 2003, when the Liberty rallied from 20 points down to post a 65-60 win at Washington at the MCI Center.

“In Connecticut, we didn’t show,’’ said Liberty coach Bill Laimbeer. “Today, we played a lot harder.’’

The loss dropped the Liberty to 8-5 on the season. Connecticut, which opened the season 0-4, improved to 6-5.

They made 12-of-24 threes for the game. The Liberty was 10-of-21 on threes, but they committed 16 turnovers and gave up nine offensive rebounds which helped the Sun score 21 second-chance points.

The Liberty struggled at times offensively as Epiphanny Prince and Kia Vaughn rejoined the team after three weeks playing in the 2017 FIBA EuroBasket tournament in Europe. Prince scored 14 points and grabbed five boards. Vaughn scored four points and had four rebounds.

Tina Charles posted her sixth double-double of the season with 20 points and 11 rebounds. She also had a season-high six assists.

Tina Charles has always been one of the best players in the WNBA, but she's now stepping up and becoming a more vocal voice in the Liberty's locker room.

Those stats will consume Laimbeer and his staff when they return to practice. But on Sunday, the Liberty will be celebrating history of another kind.

For the first time ever, the Liberty will have a float in Sunday’s NYC Pride Parade. Several players will be on the float and the importance of standing up for equality has been a topic of conversation all week.

“We like to lead,’’ said team president Isiah Thomas. “Our motto is “show up and we’ve been the first in a lot of the social justice and equality areas. Standing up and speaking out, we invite all other leagues, all other sports team to participate and follow.’’

The issue is personal for several players. Zellous’ sister, Mina, was supposed to be at Pulse nightclub in Orlando on the night of June 12, 2016 when a man with nothing but hate in his heart killed 49 people and injured 58.

Two of the three fatalities and one of the injured were friends Mina was supposed to go out with. Only a last-minute call from her boss asking her to work an extra shift saved Mina’s life.

Zellous said she will never forget the excruciating moments it took for her to reach her sister by telephone after seeing news of the shooting flash across the TV in the hotel where the Liberty were staying.

“One of her friends survived, which is good, but people lost family and friends because of hatred,’’ Zellous told MSGNetworks.com. “For us to do this, it’s for a great cause. Not only for us but for the people that are struggling, or for the people can’t come out or don’t really know themselves. It’s important for them to see professional athletes stand up for them.’’

Amanda Zahui B also will be on the float. Recently Zahui B, Zellous and assistant coach Katie Smith visited a homeless shelter populated mostly by children whose parents had thrown them out because of their sexual orientation.

“We’re showing support to everyone, that we are all equal,’’ said Zahui B. “Especially players on this team that are part of the LGBTQ family. We just want to show we’re all the same and it doesn’t matter who you love.’’