Liberty Avoid Sweep, Force Game 4 in Front of Record Home Crowd
Looking to keep their season alive, the New York Liberty bounced back from back-to-back losses and put together a complete game, defeating the Las Vegas Aces 87-73 in Game 3 of the WNBA Finals at Barclays Center. Las Vegas now leads the best-of-five series 2-1.
The win also marked New York’s first Finals win since September 1999. How did they win that one?
There were 17,143 people in attendance, a record for a Liberty game at Barclays this season and the highest gate receipt on record for the WNBA (referring to revenue earned from tickets sold). Longtime Liberty fans, Brooklyn Nets players, former Liberty legends and coaches and a handful of celebrities were all in attendance. The Aces have yet to win a game at Barclays Center this season.
“We’ve been telling them this whole time that they should get behind us,” Breanna Stewart said about the growth of women’s basketball and the fans this season. “Seeing people showing up, it’s unbelievable. … We’re just going to continue to be role models, continue to be great, and continue to demand more.”
An Improved Start to the Game
New York got off to a stronger start to Game 3 compared to the first two Finals games in Las Vegas. The Liberty held a 21-18 lead after 10 minutes and were more assertive and aggressive on defense after giving up 38 points to the Aces in Game 2. Jonquel Jones continued her hot streak and was not hesitant to shoot from distance, notching seven points in the first.
Both Sabrina Ionescu and Courtney Vandersloot, who have struggled in this series so far, knocked down early shots to give them some confidence.
Sharing and Scoring the Ball
A three from Betnijah Laney extended the Liberty’s lead to 28-21 two minutes into the second quarter, which prompted an Aces timeout. Both Jones and Stewart took over in the second quarter for the Liberty, getting points in the paint off feeds from Ionescu and Vandersloot. The Aces chipped away at the lead a bit, but New York carried a 43-40 lead into halftime.
While the Liberty struggled shooting in the first two games, they had a much better first half, going 50% from the field, including seven threes. They also had 15 assists on 17 makes, compared to only seven for the Aces. The one big mismatch in the first half was 14 free throws for the Aces to just four for Liberty.
“We were moving the ball, we got back to our identity defensively, and that got us good looks. … In the end, it’s all about selfless, moving to the next action, and being confident to shoot the shot,” Liberty coach Sandy Brondello said.
A Tale of Two Halves
The Liberty were outscored 105-65 in the second halves of Games 1 and 2, which allowed the Aces to record two blowout wins.
“[It was] just taking a look at ourselves, a look in the mirror and understanding that the basketball we played those two games in Vegas wasn’t anything we were proud of,” Stewart said. “Even though we were down, we wanted to continue to fight and have each other’s backs.”
Game 3 was a different story for New York on both ends of the floor.
The Liberty limited the Aces to just 10 points in the third quarter, putting more pressure on A’ja Wilson and the Aces guards to not give up any easy buckets and force them to work the entire shot clock. With five minutes left in the quarter, a block from Jones off a shot from Kelsey Plum sent the Liberty crowd into a frenzy and just minutes later, Stewart blocked Wilson at the rim, with “MVP” chants ringing throughout the arena.
While the Aces were able to get within six during the fourth quarter, threes from Laney, Jones and Ionescu put the game away for the Liberty.
During the fourth, Aces point guard Chelsea Gray limped to the locker room after an apparent leg injury.
Liberty Stars Showed Up
Jones finished with 27 points and eight rebounds—unable to secure her ninth straight double-double—but contributed three stifling blocks that energized the crowd. She also spent the majority of the game defending Wilson, who shot 4-of-16 in the game for 16 points.
“That’s what it takes. It’s knowing that if you go for a steal, that your teammates will help you,” Jones said. “When you build that level of trust, you see the team play at the level we did both offensively and defensively.”
The Liberty, who gave up the most points they have this season in Games 1 and 2, held the Aces to 33.3% shooting and recorded eight blocks. The Liberty guards also played better defense, working to keep the Aces’ backcourt trio in front of them.
Stewart, named to the All-WNBA First Team before the game, had 20 points and 12 rebounds while both Laney and Vandersloot had bounce-back games with 12 points each. Ionescu, named to the All-WNBA Second Team, had nine points and contributed 11 assists.
Keys Heading into Game 4
Jackie Young, who has been the x-factor for the Aces this series—scoring 26 and 24 in Games 1 and 2—was limited to just eight points on 2-of-9 shooting, with the Liberty playing much tighter defense. Kelsey Plum added 29 points. The Liberty will need to continue to limit big games from both of these players to extend the series. While Wilson struggled in Game 3, she typically does not have two quiet games in a row, meaning New York will need to be just as aggressive and disciplined on defense.
The Liberty also had success sharing the ball in Game 3 with 28 assists. They got some easy baskets off pick-and-rolls and passed the ball around the perimeter to find the open player. The Aces had just 13 assists, a season-low.
Aces coach Becky Hammon did not have an update on the status and extent of Gray’s injury, but said, “No one person’s going to replace her” if she is unable to play in Game 4.
“When someone goes down, someone else will step up,” Brondello said. “Our mindset… and our preparation doesn’t change. I don’t like when someone’s out, I’d rather they play.”
The Liberty will need another team effort to extend the series and keep Vegas on its toes. Game 4 will be at Barclays Center on Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN.