Liberty rolls over Aces in rematch of 2023 WNBA Finals (2024)

As Kelsey Plum strode to the locker room at halftime on Saturday with the Las Vegas Aces trailing by two points, she showed high praise for the Aces’ opponent. She said that the New York Liberty, winners of seven consecutive games entering the weekend, were presently the WNBA’s best team.

It would have been hard to disagree. New York has the league’s best offense and has improved its defense with its core now in its second season together. Against the Aces on Saturday, the Liberty defeated the two-time defending champions, 90-82.

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Saturday marked the first time the two franchises had met since the 2023 WNBA Finals, when the Aces topped the Liberty in Brooklyn in Game 4 to claim consecutive titles. That series remains the last time Chelsea Gray has played in WNBA action, with Gray still out with a lower leg injury. She was officially questionable for Saturday’s contest, though she did not play.

Earlier this week, Liberty coach Sandy Brondello recognized that Saturday’s matchup was a “big game.” Still, Brondello acknowledged that the two facing off this weekend weren’t exact replicas either. Gray was out, and New York did not have All-Star guard Courtney Vandersloot, who was out for personal reasons. Both teams had retooled their benches some as well.

2021 WNBA MVP Jonquel Jones led all scorers with a career-high 34 points, while adding eight rebounds. Sabrina Ionescu finished the win with a 15-point, 12-assist double-double. Last year’s league MVP Breanna Stewart added 14 points and 12 rebounds of her own.

“We talked about the chemistry,” Brondello said. “It’s showing now that we know how to execute and we can go to another level at both ends of the floor when we need it.”

3rd straight 20+ PT game for 3️⃣5️⃣JONES 🤜🤛

🌟Vote Libs for All-Star: https://t.co/GVBxBhSKhF pic.twitter.com/bcwmeRgLaP

— New York Liberty (@nyliberty) June 15, 2024

Aces guard Kelsey Plum led her team with 22 points, while two-time WNBA MVP A’ja Wilson scored 21 points, seeing her historic eight-game 25-plus point streak snap.

Jones overpowers yet another opponent

Jones is in the midst of one of the best stretches of her professional career. In her prior two games, she scored 51 points on 20-of-29 shooting, including 7-of-12 3-point shooting. In the first quarter on Saturday, Jones made her first three 3-point attempts, scoring 11 points in the opening frame. New York, as a team, made seven of its first eight 3-point attempts, though it eventually went cold, missing 11 of its next 12 shot from deep.

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Jones was the Liberty’s most consistent player in last year’s Finals, averaging 17.8 points and 9.8 rebounds. On Saturday, she made her presence felt yet again, tallying 17 points and five rebounds in the first half. Throughout the night, Jones scored over both Kiah Stokes and Wilson, who said entering the third quarter that Las Vegas was playing undisciplined. Jones scored in transition as well, making 12 of her 16 shots overall. At 6-foot-6 and holding a complete offensive repertoire, she can be the WNBA’s most dominant player on a given night. She showed what she’s capable of against the Aces.

“I’m just playing the game,” Jones said. “If I’m open, I’m shooting. If someone rotates to me, I’m passing the ball. I’m really not overthinking it. I think it shows when you’re playing the right way. It definitely does feel good.”

Plum continues to find success against New York

During last year’s Finals, Plum averaged 21.3 points per game, tied with Wilson for the most of any Aces player. Though she went scoreless in the first quarter against the Liberty, her ability to break down New York’s defense was key in Las Vegas clawing back into the contest.

Plum repeatedly got downhill against the Liberty defense, making all five of her shot attempts in the second quarter and scoring 14 points. Though Plum was held in relative check in the second half, as New York outscored Las Vegas by six points overall, Plum was still effective, shooting 61.5 percent from the field. It was by far her more efficient shooting night of the year.

KELSEY 🎯@Kelseyplum10 // #ALLINLV pic.twitter.com/UCKped9rUi

— Las Vegas Aces (@LVAces) June 15, 2024

Foreshadowing the playoffs?

The WNBA playoffs don’t start until September. Be careful about pulling too much from this contest and applying it then. Sure, there are things to be gleaned — about how both teams defended each other’s bigs, about how Plum was able to gash New York in the second quarter, about how the Liberty went on a 14-0 third quarter run to open up a lead — but Gray, the best point guard in the world, did not play for Las Vegas. Vandersloot was inactive for New York.

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The reality is that in a potential future playoff series, rotations for each team will be different. Jumps can be made from the regular season to postseason. Aces coach Becky Hammon admitted this winter on “The Athletic Women’s Basketball Show” that the Liberty were playing better when New York blew out Las Vegas last August. By the playoffs and in the WNBA Finals, however, things had changed.

Liberty players have talked all year about the importance of chemistry and having a full season together behind them. Ionescu cited New York’s experience afterward, noting they weren’t frantic when Las Vegas went on a run to open the third quarter and briefly retake the lead. Perhaps that will make the difference in a potential postseason matchup. For now, though, even after a convincing victory, New York (12-2) is focused on continuing to build on its eight-game win streak.

The Aces, meanwhile, are off to a slower start this year than last. They’re now 6-6 on the season. A season ago, they lost only six games in the regular season.Hammon discussed her team playing with “zero consistency” on Saturday, describing the group as undisciplined and unorganized on the defensive end.She said they don’t have an edge right now, or a hunger. That’s true in the present, but Las Vegas will also be a different team when it becomes whole again.

Required reading

  • WNBA power rankings: Brittney Griner’s 2024 debut boosts Phoenix Mercury
  • Liberty win sixth straight game, hand Sun first loss of season behind Jonquel Jones’ rim protection
  • This isn’t Iowa, but Kate Martin is thriving in the Las Vegas spotlight

(Photo: Ethan Miller / Getty Images)

Liberty rolls over Aces in rematch of 2023 WNBA Finals (1)Liberty rolls over Aces in rematch of 2023 WNBA Finals (2)

Ben Pickman is a staff writer for The Athletic covering the WNBA and women’s college basketball. Previously, he was a writer at Sports Illustrated where he primarily covered women’s basketball and the NBA. He has also worked at CNN Sports and the Wisconsin Center for Journalism Ethics. Follow Ben on Twitter @benpickman

Liberty rolls over Aces in rematch of 2023 WNBA Finals (2024)

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