Courtney Vandersloot and Kelsey Plum
October 8, 2023: NY Liberty guard Courtney Vandersloot dribbles against Las Vegas Aces guard Kelsey Plum. Photo by Brandon Todd/NY Liberty

Liberty Dominated by Aces in Second Half, Drop Game 1 of WNBA Finals

In Game 1 of the WNBA Finals, the Las Vegas Aces’ guards and their second-half defense proved to be the difference-makers as they defeated the New York Liberty 99-82 at Michelob Ultra Arena on Sunday. The Aces, who have gone undefeated in the postseason so far, took a 1-0 lead in the best-of-five series.

The two best offensive teams in the league proved it early on, with both getting drives to the basket and hitting threes to set up a fast first quarter. The Liberty started out in man-to-man defense and led 25-22 after the first 10 minutes.

Marine Johannès Continues Hot Streak Against Aces

After playing limited minutes in the playoffs so far with just five points to show for it, Marine Johannès, who has had some of her best games against the Aces this season, came into the game early for the Liberty and had an immediate impact with eight first-quarter points. Jackie Young had a strong start for the Aces with eight points.

Jonquel Jones went down with an ankle injury and was seen walking back into the locker room at the end of the first quarter, but came back to the court to start the second quarter with four quick points. 

The Liberty held a slim lead through the second quarter, while Jones continued to make her presence felt under the basket and on the defensive end, posting 12 points and nine rebounds in the first half. The Liberty’s bench play was the difference as they outscored the Aces’ bench 17-2. Johannès continued her acrobatic shooting clinic with 14 points and a block of a Kelsey Plum shot at the buzzer to give New York a 49-46 lead at halftime. Stewart had 10 points off of 4-of-8 shooting while Kelsey Plum had 14 points and A’ja Wilson had 10 for the Aces. 

“Marine came out and was Marine,” Liberty coach Sandy Brondello said. “She’s had some good games against this team.”

Aces Take Over Second Half

The Aces regained their lead in the third quarter after scores by Young and Chelsea Gray, which prompted a Liberty timeout. Betnijah Laney, who was quiet in the first half with just three points, looked for her shot more in the third and contributed four quick points. For Jones, an offensive putback gave her a seventh consecutive double double in these playoffs. Yet Wilson and Young continued their strong play for the Aces and a three-point play for Young gave the Aces a 72-65 lead going into the fourth as New York was 0-of-5 from three in the third. 

Las Vegas started the fourth on a 9-0 run to give it a 13-point lead, its largest of the game. The Liberty then struggled to stay with the Aces in the fourth, especially on the defensive end while trying out their zone, which allowed Las Vegas to extend its lead to 21. The Liberty could not find rhythm offensively and, with the game out of reach, Liberty coach Sandy Brondello emptied her bench with 1:30 left. Stewart finished the game with 21 points and Jones added 16.

“I think in the second half, the ball stopped and got stuck a little bit,” Stewart said. “That made it easier for them to clog the paint on [Jones] and myself. We need to continue to keep moving and trust what got us here.”

What Went Wrong for the Liberty

Johannès saw limited minutes and shots in the second half and was held scoreless on her three attempts. The Liberty also struggled shooting in the second half and were not as aggressive as they normally are in driving to the basket and drawing fouls. This was a factor in the final box score as the Aces shot 23 free throws compared to 13 for the Liberty. 

The guard play for the Aces was the biggest difference-maker, as Plum, Gray and Young combined for 72 points, with Plum and Young scoring 26 each. Wilson added 19 points, making their 91 combined points the most by a quartet in a WNBA Finals game all-time. 

“We know we can defend better and we need to make it a bit harder, they had too many open layups at the rim,” Brondello said of the Aces’ offense.

Factors For Game 2

Vandersloot and Ionescu struggled to get it going offensively, shooting a combined 6-of-18 for 17 points and at times were slow to respond to their matchups on defense. Laney also attempted only eight field goals for 11 points. 

“They had a tough night, that’s not going to happen two games in a row,” Brondello said about New York’s guards. “We believe in them, they’ve carried us all season long.”

The depth of the Liberty bench compared to a lack of for the Aces was noticeable and will continue to be a factor for New York, especially later in the series. Kiah Stokes, the Aces’ starting center, did not attempt a shot, which means New York will need to focus on looking to double-team the quartet for the Aces. 

The Liberty fell to the Connecticut Sun in Game 1 of the last series and bounced back in Game 2, which they will need to do in this series against the Aces. New York will look to even the series in Game 2 on Wednesday at 9 p.m. ET on ESPN. 

Liberty fans can catch the game at an official watch party of Game 2 at Slate NYC on Wednesday. Tickets can be found here.