It was the first game in nearly ten months for the former Oregon guard after missing most of last season with a grade-3 ankle sprain suffered in July. But Ionescu looked as if the injury never happened.
She scored 25 points and dished out a career-high 11 assists for her first career WNBA double-double.
The No. 1 overall pick in 2020 WNBA Draft entered the third quarter with 12 points on just 3-10 shooting, but put on a show with her passing, handing out all 11 assists in the first three quarters.
But in the final twelve minutes, Ionescu took control.
She exploded for 13 points in the final quarter, including a clutch 3-pointer to cut the Fever lead to one with just under 40 seconds to play. Fever guard Kelsey Mitchell made one of two free throws to extend the lead to two, but Ionescu came right back and drew a foul, knocking down both free throws to knot the score at 87 with 22 ticks left.
The Liberty defense came up big in the waning moments, forcing a Mitchell travel with 5.8 seconds remaining. Liberty head coach Walt Hopkins called a timeout to draw up a potential game-winning play.
It is safe to say a lot of people — especially Ducks fans — knew who was going to take the final shot.
Ionescu inbounded the ball to Kylee Shook, who gave it right back to Ionescu and set a screen on Fever guard Danielle Robinson to free up Ionescu for the shot.
Ionescu heaved a twisting 25-foot 3-pointer off the screen and nailed it with 0.4 seconds left. The minuscule crowd of 1,239 at Barclays Center erupted, sounding like a sellout crowd.
“I’M BACK!” Ionescu yelled repeatedly to the fans and her teammates as they mobbed her on the opposite side of the court. The victory is the first for Ionescu as a WNBA player, and the Liberty’s first opening-night win since 2017.
On a night where Ionescu showed up to the game rocking a Kobe Bryant jersey, she looked like the Black Mamba himself in the fourth quarter.
In her postgame interview, she delivered a Mamba-esque statement when asked what was going through her mind as she took the final shot.
“I wanted it,” Ionescu said. “This is just the beginning for us.”