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Las Vegas Aces Become Back-to-Back Champs on Failed Buzzer-Beater

Courtesy of Frank Franklin II via the Associated Press

The Las Vegas Aces take the WNBA Finals series 3-1 after beating the New York Liberty in a comeback victory 70-69. The Aces became the first WNBA team to win back-to-back championships since the Los Angeles Sparks in 2001 and 2002, and only one other team has done it before then. This is the Aces’ second consecutive championship under coach and former WNBA player Becky Hammon.

Game four was one for the ages after a long anticipated matchup between superteams converged. Everyone familiar with the WNBA predicted this finals matchup. The Aces have built up their superteam for years, carefully obtaining just the right pieces and crafting a perfect well-oiled machine. The Liberty, however, were born this offseason in a free agency frenzy as a response to the Aces almost inevitable repeat. The Liberty acquired 2023 MVP Breann Stewart from the Seattle Storm and 2021 Jonquel Jones from the Connecticut Sun. The New York powerhouse was created to stop the Aces, and in the regular season they did just that, beating the Aces three times, including the Commissioner’s Cup. The Aces did manage to beat the Liberty twice in the regular season, but were forced to reconfigure their starting lineup when star Candace Parker went out with a left foot fracture. To add to their starting lineup problems the Aces 2022 Finals MVP point guard, Chelsea Gray, went down in game three of the Finals series with a left foot injury. To add insult to injury(ies), Aces center Kiah Stokes was also out, dealing with a right foot injury. Going into game four there were serious doubts about the Aces’ extremely thin roster without two starters. The starting five looked extremely different from the beginning of the season, starting A’ja Wilson, Kelsey Plum, Jackie Young, Alysha Clark, and Cayla George.

Even with the Aces’ injury issues the situation was still do or die for the New York Liberty, down 2-1 in the best of five series, and they knew it. The Liberty came out the gate with intensity and caused eight Aces’ turnovers in the first quarter. A’ja Wilson also picked up two early fouls, forcing the Aces’ best player to bench early. The Liberty held a ten point lead after the first quarter, and looked ready to capitalize on the Aces’ injury woes. The Aces fought back with a 5-0 run to start the second quarter, but were stifled by a Liberty 8-0 run late in the second. The Liberty were in control at half 39-30. The Liberty, who rely on their three point shooting, didn’t shoot well, leaving the door open for the Aces. The shooting from both teams was relatively even with the Aces shooting 13-of-35 and the Liberty hitting 14-of-36 from the field in the first half. The Aces came out of half looking like the team we’ve seen all season. Wilson showed why she’s an MVP level player scoring nine straight points and helping tie the game at 51 with 34.9 seconds left in the third quarter. The Aces won the third quarter 23-12 and took a two point lead going into the fourth. The third quarter proved to be the difference maker for the Aces. If the Liberty had come out with the same fire that they had in the first quarter they could have buried the Aces and forced a game five. The game was tied again at 60 points each with 5:26 remaining. Each team managed to put up points until 8.8 seconds remaining and the Liberty were down by one, 70-69. Coming out of a timeout the Liberty attempted to run a play for Stewart who was heavily guarded by Alysha Clark. Stewart was forced to kick the ball which ended up in Courtney Vandersloot’s hands deep in the corner. Vandersloot could do nothing but jack up an off-balance three without a prayer. The Aces were down by as much as 12, but their pure team chemistry propelled them to their second consecutive ring.

Courtesy of Frank Franklin II via the Associated press

Their team, despite facing adversity this season, stayed strong throughout the playoffs, especially in game four. Their faith in each other as teammates has grown over the seasons and shows in their stats. Four Aces players scored in double figures. Wilson, who earned Finals MVP had 24 points and 16 rebounds. Young added 16 points and seven assists, Clark stepped up with 10 points and eight rebounds, and George contributed 11 points. Wilson though has been a true phenomenon, rightfully earning finals MVP along with becoming the first player to have three consecutive 30-point games in the playoffs, and the third player 35-point, 15-rebound game in the playoffs in game two against Chicago.

Despite the loss, the Liberty maintained a lead for the majority of the game. Courtney Vandersloot, who has disappeared this series, came out with a vengeance scoring 19 points, with seven rebounds and six assists. Besides Vandersloot, the rest of the Liberty underperformed. 2023 MVP Breanna Stewart shot just 3-of-17 from the field for 10 points. Sabrina Ionescu had 13 points and 2021 MVP Jonquel Jones had just six.

If these two teams look similar next season WNBA fans can look forward to a finals rematch as no one in the league can truly compete with these powerhouses. These teams combined have three WNBA MVPs and five former first overall draft picks. The Liberty must shoot better and work on chemistry if they want a chance to beat a fully healthy Aces team in 2024.

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