Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe
(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

New York Liberty reserve forward Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe got some special extra birthday presents, as the now 28-year-old made personal history.

Magliocchetti with the Liberty

Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe bid farewell to her 28th year in style.

The New York Liberty forward celebrated her birthday last Thursday, one day before her squad took on the powerful Connecticut Sun. A big gift and opportunity awaited her the next night.

With star forward Tina Charles resting, Raincock-Ekunwe was called upon to take her place. It was her first start in a WNBA lineup since July 2, 2017.

She repaid the favor to head coach Katie Smith last Friday against the Sun. In 20 minutes, 10 points (5-of-6 FG) and 7 rebounds were tallied, setting respective new season and career-bests.

Raincock-Ekunwe revealed after the game that she was informed of the lineup duties in that morning’s shootaround. She was determined not to let the dispensed faith from her coaches and teammates go to waste.

“I was a little surprised but excited for the opportunity,” she said. “It’s an honor. I think it shows that (Smith) has more trust in me and that I’ve worked had.”

The Liberty fell to the Sun by a 94-84 final, but Raincock-Ekunwe’s numbers were part of a respectable showing sans Charles. Rookies Marine Johannes and Han Xu united for 36 points, while Raincock-Ekunwe’s fellow Canadian Kia Nurse put in 15 more. The Liberty even held a lead on the Sun, who currently hold one of the WNBA’s top two playoff seeds.

New York is eliminated from 2019 playoff contention, but Raincock-Ekunwe was pleased with the effort.

“I’m really proud of how the team played tonight,” she said. “We played well, we played together, we passed the ball well, we worked well together.”

“It’s great for our mindset. It shows that we can compete with top teams in this league if we want to and if we really focus on any night. Even with our star player missing, we can compete with anyone.”

Other NYC Teams

With Charles resting, Smith didn’t hesitate to insert Raincock-Ekunwe into the primary five.

She’s often one of the final women off the bench, but Smith was pleased with the way Raincock-Ekunwe was utilizing her opportunities. For example, she’s shooting 69 percent from the field over her past four games (11-of-16).

“I thought Nayo played well,” Smith said in her own postgames statements. “Six shots for her, 5-of-6. She’s looking at the rim, getting extra possessions, runs the floor hard. I’ve always been pleased with what she brings to the table. I was really happy with what she did tonight.”

Raincock-Ekunwe said her first start in over two calendar years was part of a birthday that featured a lot of “great gifts”. One such present was a pair of tickets from Johannes, as they took in the play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

Per Johannes’ Instagram, the French-speaking pair exchanged their Quidditch brooms for baseball mitts, venturing to The Bronx for a game at Yankee Stadium.

View this post on Instagram

Take me out to the ball game 🎶⚾️

A post shared by Marine Johannès (@marinej5) on

Three more chances await the Liberty to build some momentum and end this trying season on the right note. The first of that trio comes on Tuesday night against another top-seed holder, the Washington Mystics (7:00 p.m. ET, NBA TV/Fox Sports Go).

“It’s late in the season but I’m still trying to get better. I’m hopeful we can get some wins.”

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