The 2023 WNBA finals are underway as no.1 seed Las Vegas Aces look to defend their title against no. 2 seed New York Liberty. Game one in Las Vegas was all Aces backcourt as the defending champs handled the Liberty 99-82. The Aces secured the lead early on, but the Liberty recovered and went on a run to steal the lead at the end of the first quarter. The Liberty controlled the lead for the rest of the first half, but never fully pulled away. The Aces managed to keep it close and went into halftime down 49-46. The Aces came out of the half determined. They brought it on both sides of the court and the Liberty weren’t able to keep up. The Aces dominated the third quarter outsourcing the liberty 26-16. The Aces went into the fourth quarter up 72-65, extended their lead to double digits and the rest was history.
Aces’ guards Jackie Young and Kelsey Plum both scored career playoff highs with 26 points each and combined with the third piece of the all-star trio, Chelsea Gray, for 72 points on 25-of-47 from the field, with 16 rebounds and 15 assists. Young was hot from three, shooting 5 for 8 from behind the arc. The Aces are menacing when 2022 MVP A’ja Wilson is not the top scorer, but still has a good night. Wilson contributed with a solid 19 points and 8 points. In addition to outstanding individual performances, the Aces were clicking as a team, shooting almost 55% from the field.
The Liberty did not produce the performance they were hoping for despite five players scoring in double figures. 2023 MVP, Breanna Stewart led the way with 21 points, and 2021 MVP Jonquel Jones added 16 points and 10 rebounds. Jones came out on fire in the first half and secured a double-double early on in the second half. However, Jones didn’t touch the ball nearly enough in the second half and only took four shots. Jones has had a record-breaking playoff run; recording a double-double in all seven of the Liberty's postseason games, the most double-doubles in a postseason run in WNBA history. Despite this record, the Liberty have not involved Jones nearly enough. The 2021 MVP needs the ball more and the Liberty need to play the ball through their 6 '6 forward in order to get the ball moving and spread the defense. Sabrina Ionescu who has been averaging 16.3 points in the playoffs only contributed 7, which is a major problem for the Liberty. Marine Johannes added an unexpected spark off the bench by immediately scoring 14 points, but was kept scoreless in the second half after the Aces adjusted and double teamed her. Betnijah Laney, a name that has come up repeatedly during the Liberty’s playoff run, has proven to be an indicator of the Liberty’s success. Laney has scored at least 19 points in five of six of the Liberty’s playoff games. The liberty have won all five of these games. In the only game where she scored a meager three points, the Liberty lost. Because of her importance, the Aces prioritized keeping her from scoring. Laney didn’t score until late into the first quarter and didn’t touch the ball in the paint until the third quarter. Laney finished the game with 11 points, not enough to give the Liberty life.
The Liberty have been the best 3-point shooting team in WNBA history, but their innate 3-point abilities have disappeared in the playoffs. In game one they went 9-of-29 from downtown adding to their abysmal 62-of-187 record in the playoffs. That 33.2% 3-point shooting number is not going to hold up against the Aces when their entire success is built around their ability to hit the three. The Aces also hit nine three-pointers, and for a team that relies on the three, this is devastating. In addition to their haphazard shooting performance, the Liberty also lost the rebounding battle 34-30, and only snagged six offensive rebounds, leading to a mere four second chance points. The Aces outscored the Liberty by eleven from the free-throw line. Overall, the Liberty were outperformed on every front.
The Liberty have proven that they can beat the Aces. They did so three times in August, including to win the Commissioner’s Cup. The Liberty have not lost two games straight this entire season and don’t plan on starting now. They know that going down 2-0 to the Aces’ is not an option. They went down 1-0 in their series against the Connecticut Sun, and came back stronger, winning three straight. The Liberty have dealt with adversity throughout the playoffs and know how to come back. They have the capacity to beat the reigning champs, they just have to put the pieces together and start hitting their threes.