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The Liberty Win to Stay Alive in Finals

Courtesy of Evan Yu via Getty Images

Sunday- The Las Vegas Aces attempted to sweep the New York Liberty, but the Liberty fought back, winning convincingly 87-73. The highly anticipated game 3 was do or die for the Liberty who have underperformed this finals series. However, playing at home sparked the return of the New York swagger and brought back the team we’ve seen all season. Game 3 set a new record for attendance, as the Barclays Center was rocking with 17,143 fans in attendance. A star-studded audience showed up to watch the star-studded teams battle it out, including Joan Jett, Jason Sudeikis, Michael Shannon, Robin Roberts, and Lil’ Kim. Whether it was fear of elimination or playing at home that motivated them, The Liberty showed up and earned their first win in the WNBA Finals since 1999.

The Liberty started off strong, but weren’t able to pull away, and led 21-18 at the end of the first quarter. The Liberty were up by three at half, and came out of the break on an 8-0 run to grab a double-digit lead, which they held for the rest of the game. For the Aces though, their biggest concern wasn’t their first loss of the playoffs, it was the injury to Chelsea Gray. The 2022 Finals MVP left the game midway through the fourth quarter with a left foot injury. This possible loss is devastating to the already thin Aces. The Aces are already without GOAT Candace Parker due to injury and Riquna Williams due to a legal case. The Aces rely primarily on their core four, A’ja Wilson, Chelsea Gray, Jackie Young, and Kelsey Plum. If Chelsea Gray isn’t able to play on Wednesday, that gives the Liberty a serious opening to even the series. Gray is one of the best point guards of all time, averaging 16.3 points and 7.4 assists in the playoffs. Without her the Aces’ ball movement stalls. But in game three even with Gray, the ball movement was unusually stagnant. The Aces had only 13 assists after averaging 21.7 assists per game in the playoffs. The assists weren’t the only place the Aces were underachieving. Between games 1 and 2 the Liberty allowed 203 points on 53.7% shooting. In game three the Liberty held the Aces to 73 points on 33.3% shooting.

Courtesy of Evan Yu via Getty Images

Jonquel Jones vocalized her frustration with the Liberty’s game 1 and 2 performances and vowed to play better. Jones lived up to her promise with 27 points, on 10-for-15 shooting, hitting 4 threes, getting eight rebounds, and three blocks. As much as Jones shined offensively, she contributed just as much on the other end of the court. Jones was matched up against two time WNBA MVP A’j Wilson and held Wilson to 4-for-13. The Liberty’s 2023 MVP Breanna Stweart also improved from games 1 and 2, with 20 points on 50% shooting and 12 rebounds.

The Liberty, who are the greatest three-point team in WNBA history, have struggled from behind the arc this series shooting just 31% and 22.9% in the first two games. But game 3 was different; all five starters hit 3s for the Liberty, with 3-point contributions from the bench. New York shot 13-of-30 (43.3%) from three and 52.4% overall, showing significant improvement. They also played better as a team, and finally seemed to be connecting. The Liberty assisted on 28 of their 33 made field goals, an 84.8% assisted shot rate which earned them the second best in Finals history.

The Aces struggled offensively due to the Liberty switching up their defensive matchups. Jackie Young had eight points on 2-for-9, and 0-for-3 from deep. Chelsea Gray scored 11 with only 2 assists. A’ja Wilson had 16 points, and never managed to get going offensively. Kelsey Plum was the only bright spot for the Aces’ offense with 29 points, with five 3s. The Aces shot 33.3%, the first time they’ve shot less than 50% in the Finals. The Liberty held the Aces to only two fastbreak points, while scoring 12.

The Liberty were flat in games 1 and 2, but in game 3 they played with passion and energy. The Liberty finally proved why they deserve to be in the Finals, and the championship series is beginning to look competitive. The potential loss of Chelsea Gray cannot be understated, and could truly be a series changer for the Liberty. Game 4 will be played in New York again, and the Liberty will try to even the series.

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