NY Liberty guard Marine Johannes dribbles against Las Vegas Aces
October 8, 2023: NY Liberty guard dribbles against Las Vegas Aces in game one of the WNBA Finals. Photo by Brandon Todd/ NY Liberty

WNBA Finals Game 1 Takeaways, Post-Game Comments and More

On a sunny Sunday in Las Vegas, Nev., the highly-anticipated matchup between superteams in the Las Vegas Aces and New York Liberty tipped off in Michelob Ultra Arena. Appropriately, the energy was electric, as the arena was packed and sold out. On top of this, stars such as LeBron James, Tom Brady, Sheryl Swoops, Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson, Ben Simmons, Mark Wahlberg and Kehlani were in attendance.

Brooklyn Nets players Mikal Bridges and Ben Simmons in Las Vegas to watch Game 1 of the New York Liberty vs Las Vegas Aces. Photo via the Brooklyn Nets

The game was highly-contested in the first half with teams throwing haymaker after haymaker. However, in the second half, the Aces put their foot on the gas pedal and never took it off. Their blistering second half, sparked by their high energy and defense, led the way for the Vegas victory, 99-82. My colleague Ella Morrisey has more on the game here.

Let’s dive into some key takeaways.

Aces Big Four Leads the Way

The Aces’ core of A’ja Wilson, Chelsea Gray, Kelsey Plum and Jackie Young are proven winners and have been on this stage before. In Game 1, they demonstrated why they are leading the best team in the league. Jackie Young led the way with a career-high 26 points, while Plum added 26, Gray had 20 and Wilson had 19.

Though individual Vegas players each had an offensive outburst, it was truly the team’s defense that set the tone for the game. The Aces’ defense helped lead to easy scoring opportunities in transition, which leads to efficient scoring, and that is just what happened. As a team, the Aces shot 54.7% from the floor and 40.9% from three.

Ultimately, the aggressiveness the Aces displayed in the second half was the biggest factor in the victory. Gray, Plum and Young were able to drive into the paint and get to the spots they wanted to score. Every offensive possession felt as if it was going for the backbreaking killshot. Wilson’s offensive versatility was huge as well. No matter who was guarding her, whether Stewart or Jones, Wilson was able to get to her favorite spots. All four players getting what they want was a recipe for the dominant offensive performance on the day.

Not to be forgotten is the underrated contributions of Sixth Woman of the Year Alysha Clark. Though the box score does not show it, her overall impact on both ends of the floor was instrumental in the Aces storming ahead in the second half. She had the unenviable task of guarding both Breanna Stewart and Jonquel Jones, but she did an admirable job.

Defensively, Clark made Stewart and Jones work for their possessions, and overall made it a difficult day for them. Offensively, she worked well as a floor spacer to allow others to be able to crash the paint and get easy looks at the basket. As an elite three-point shooter her shot has to be respected, and this is key for when the Aces go small. It allows for many open looks when the team shares the ball, or the capability for any of the Big Four to go one-on-one in isolation. While many consider Jackie Young an X-factor in this Finals series, Clark will be truly valuable for Vegas. Outside of the starting five’s heavy minutes, Aces coach Becky Hammon only went to Clark off the bench. If Vegas wants to win the Finals, it will need Clark to continuously step up on both ends and relieve pressure off the starting five. So far, she has lived up to the billing.

Rebounding and Defense Will Dictate the Series

It may seem obvious, but defense and rebounding are the No. 1 keys for victory for both teams. In Game 1, Vegas outrebounded New York 30-24. On top of that, Vegas had seven team rebounds against New York’s two. Importantly, this led to six second-chance points for the Aces compared to four for the Liberty. Each Aces player was seen outhustling the opponent and diving for loose balls. The Aces using their high energy to force mistakes and fight for rebounds was the biggest difference in winning the game. Though both teams committed 11 turnovers, it was the Aces who took full advantage, scoring 16 points off those turnovers compared to just six by the Liberty. It had almost felt that the Aces just wanted it more. Normally, it is a great sign of competitiveness when your team is constantly fighting and diving for loose balls. The sense of urgency the Aces displayed from the jump was notable, and can be expected again in Game 2.

Marine Johannes’s Shooting is Nuts

Johannes deserves her own section, as her shotmaking ability was incredible. From shooting a fadeaway three, followed by a one-legged three, it was almost as if she was playing horse. She captivated the Vegas crowd with her circus shots.

It’s Only Game 1

Game 1 is only scratching the surface of what this series can become. It is not decided in one game, and any takeaways can be easily changed by the next contest. Both the Aces and Liberty are elite teams and have proven why they belong on the biggest stage. Both teams will adjust and things can look very different as the series continues. For Aces fans, it is important to not get too high on the victory, while for Liberty fans, a victory in Game 2 ties things up. Buckle up, it is going to be one exciting series.

Post-Game Press Conference Clips

Here are the full videos for both the Aces and Liberty media availability.

Liberty coach Sandy Brondello, Jonquel Jones and Breanna Stewart all spoke. The main emphasis was discussing what went wrong in the second half and how they plan to adjust for Game 2.

On the Aces side of things, coach Becky Hammon, Kelsey Plum and A’ja Wilson all spoke. They discussed what changed in the second half to spark their run to victory, as well as their aggressiveness as a team. Both Plum and Wilson discussed the star guests in the building, namely LeBron James, and Tom Brady, who is an Aces minority owner.

Young also talked about her career game and her mentality towards it, and how to continue her hot streak moving forward.

Onto Game 2

In this best-of-five series, the Aces have struck first leading 1-0. Game 2 will take place on Wednesday, Oct. 11 with tip-off at 9 p.m. ET. Both teams will face off again in Michelob Ultra Arena. The Liberty will face pressure to even up the series heading back into New York. The important aspect that the Liberty will need to address will be rebounding and getting better looks from three. The Liberty have been winning games through getting stops and getting into their transition threes. If they can get back into their flow, they should be in better position to win Game 2. However, the Aces will hope to continue their momentum, and undefeated playoff run, and potentially take a 2-0 lead in the series. For the Aces, it will have to be another big game from their core four to keep the game in their control. However, their ability on defense to make the Liberty uncomfortable and not get to their spots on the floor will be a huge factor again heading into Game 2.