The WNBA semifinals drew to a close this past week as the reigning champion Las Vegas Aces confidently swept the Dallas Wings 3-0. In the other series, the New York Liberty struggled in game one against the Connecticut Sun, but adjusted and regained control of the series, winning 3-1. The finals series sets up a historic finish; either the Liberty will win their first championship or the Aces will become the first team since 2002 to be back-to-back champions.
Back in 2002, Aces’ head coach Becky Hammon was a guard on the Liberty team who fell to the Los Angeles Sparks in the finals. Liberty head coach Sandy Brondello was also playing in the WNBA at that time on the Miami Sol. This championship marks the first time two former WNBA players will encounter each other in the finals as opposing head coaches.
When the Aces and Liberty met in the regular season, they both captured two games, both winning at home. However, prior to the regular season the top two teams met in August in the Commissioner’s Cup Final in Vegas. The Liberty pulled off an upset 82-63, and captured their first franchise title. Now the two meet again, this time for a league title.
Both teams are no stranger to success in both the regular season and playoffs with the Aces finishing the regular season as the No. 1 seed at 34-6, with the Liberty coming in a close second at 32-8. The Aces, led by 2022 MVP A’ja Wilson will appear in their third WNBA Finals in four years. Wilson is joined by the best guard trio in WNBA history; Chelsea Gray, Kelsey Plum and Jackie Young.
Sitting opposite A'ja Wilson and the Aces are the Liberty led by 2023 MVP Breanna Stewart. Stewart recently joined the Liberty this summer and has proved to be the key the Liberty was missing. The Liberty will play for a championship for the fifth time and hope to capture the franchise’s first ring. The last time the Liberty were playing for a championship was the 2002 finals when they lost to the Los Angeles Sparks. The Liberty certainly qualify as a star-studded super team with two-time MVP Breanna Stewart, 2021 MVP Jonquel Jones, and former first overall pick Sabrina Ionescu. These teams combine for a staggering five former No. 1 overall draft picks: Stewart, Ionescu, Wilson, Plum, and Young.
The WNBA Finals MVP battle will primarily be between Stweart and Wilson. Both 6’4 guards, the battle is very evenly matched. 2023 MVP vs. Defensive Player of the Year and 2021 MVP. During the regular season, Wilson averaged 22.8 points and 9.5 rebounds, while Stewart averaged 23.0 points and 9.3 rebounds. In the playoffs, Wilson has been averaging 25.8 points and 11.2 rebounds, and Stewart is averaging 19.8 and 9.0.
A potential difference maker in the series is the Liberty’s Jonquel Jones. In the Liberty’s win in the Commissioner’s Cup, she was the tournament’s finals MVP with 16 points and 15 rebounds. During the regular season, Jones averaged 11.3 points and 8.4 rebounds. During the playoffs, her numbers increased to 16.5 points and 12.8 rebounds. In the Liberty’s securing victory against the Sun, Jones proved she’s a force to be reckoned with, racking up 25 points, 15 rebounds, and 4 blocks.
To counteract the effects of Jones, The Aces have All-Stars Plum, Young, and 2022 Finals MVP Chelsea Gray who have built an impenetrable trio with flawless chemistry for the past three seasons. Gray and Plum are averaging 16.0 points in the playoffs and Young with 15.2, but what really sets them apart is their defense.
The battle of the three is going to be crucial for both teams to win. In the five matchups between these two teams, The Liberty have shot 48% on open 3-pointers, with Ionescu hitting 11-of-23. In the playoffs, Ionescu is 40%, 12-of-30 on uncontested threes. Another Liberty shooter getting hot in the playoffs is Betnijah Laney who has hit 11 of 20 (55%). Trying to match the Liberty’s three-point supremacy will be Kelsey Plum who is 11-23 on uncontested threes in the playoffs.
The Aces have had more time to recover and prepare in between series, so it will be interesting to see the impact this has on player performance in game one. This battle between star-studded powerhouses will prove to be a dogfight as both teams have a plethora of offensive weapons at their disposal. Will the Aces repeat or will the Liberty make history?