WNBA Finals Game 2 Takeaways, Post-Game Comments as Aces Take 2-0 Series Lead
After their Game 1 victory, the Las Vegas Aces came into Game 2 looking to take a commanding 2-0 series lead—and they did just that.
In what was an avalanche to start the game for the Aces, the Liberty had their moments but could not overcome. The Aces were dominant and made it known why they were the best team in the league, as they maintained a wire-to-wire 104-76 victory.
Aces Show Out Again, Liberty Without Answers
Similar to Game 1, the Aces’ core four showed out once again. Throughout the season and playoffs, whenever the Aces needed them, Chelsea Gray, Kelsey Plum, A’ja Wilson and Jackie Young have stepped up. Wilson made it known again that she is the best player in the world, posting a dominant double-double with 26 points and 15 rebounds. Though she was efficient offensively, it was her impact on the defensive end that stood out. Wilson took charge of guarding 2023 WNBA MVP Breanna Stewart and did a phenomenal job not letting Stewart get comfortable. When Liberty center Jonquel Jones got going in the second quarter, Wilson took charge of the matchup and only let Jones score three points in the second half. Wilson is making a strong case for Finals MVP through the first two games.
The other darkhorse Finals MVP candidate is Aces guard Jackie Young, who followed up her career Game 1 performance with another masterpiece. Though she could not find her groove in the first half, her play in the second half sparked the dominant victory. Young tallied 24 points and looked confident doing so; she has been able to get to her spots with ease and has made her offensive output look easy. But, like Wilson, Young’s defense cannot be ignored. She has been able to take on any matchup the Liberty have thrown at her and make her opponent work.
Aces guards Kelsey Plum and Chelsea Gray also were in an offensive groove. Gray was able to dissect the Liberty defense with ease; on top of scoring 14 points, she dished 11 assists. Like her co-stars, Gray has been a stalwart on defense. Her ability to guard the Liberty’s bigs allows the Aces defense to freely switch, or quickly recover to their original matchups. By doing this, the Liberty cannot get any mismatches or run sets cleanly.
Plum went on another scoring tear with 23 points. Her 5-of-8 shooting from three also spaced out the floor, leaving the paint wide open to attack.
On the Liberty side of things, it was another game where the stars struggled, with only Jonquel Jones seemingly showing up. When the Liberty offense struggled and found itself in a hole, Jones was the saving grace, putting up her own double-double of 22 points and 10 rebounds. However, once Wilson switched to her on defense in the second half, she disappeared, scoring just three points.
Courtney Vandersloot and Sabrina Ionescu combined to score just 19 points on 5-of-19 shooting, while Breanna Stewart put up 14 points on 6-of-17 shooting. For the Liberty to catch up to the Aces’ firepower, everyone has to show up. To combat this, the Liberty will need to figure out how to get their guards open.
Of course, this is easier said than done. But, sharpshooters in Vandersloot and Ionescu have been unable to find space to launch from deep as Vegas has denied any opportunity. Could solutions include more off-ball screens to get the shooters open? Get Stewie in mismatches in the post? That is for coach Sandy Brondello to figure out. Either way, time is running out for the Liberty, and they are going to need to find a spark immediately if they want any hope of a comeback.
Role Players Shine for Vegas
For all the talk of the Aces’ star power, one role player deserves special mention. Kiah Stokes, known for her defensive presence at center, opened up the scoring with a corner three that sent that crowd roaring in a frenzy. Stokes finished the game with eight points and seven rebounds. But, like her specialty, her impact on defense was the most notable. Stokes was tasked with guarding both Jones and Stewart, and she did her job. Though Jones gained the upper hand, Stokes made sure Jones exhausted her energy just to score.
When Stokes was tasked with guarding Stewart in the second half, she never let the MVP get comfortable. Her impact extended beyond the box score, and her defense led to many transition opportunities for the Aces, which led to easy buckets on the other end. Stokes has been instrumental for the Aces since Candace Parker has been out due to injury. In Game 2, she proved how much of an unsung hero she is.
Like in Game 1, Sixth Woman of the Year Alysha Clark impacted the game beyond the box score. Though she put up seven points and four rebounds, she was a big part of the Aces’ ability to run an efficient small-ball lineup that was lethal defensively. Clark’s ability to be a versatile defender allowed the Aces to freely switch defenders without having to send help unless it was in the paint. Offensively, Clark’s versatility to not only be a floor spacer, but a willing cutter allowed for easier scoring opportunities for herself and her teammates. Clark is a key cog in what makes the Aces so versatile and run like a well-oiled machine, and Wednesday night was no different.
Defense, Defense, Defense
In our post-game analysis of Game 1, we stated that defense and aggressiveness would be the key to winning the games, if not the series. The Aces played aggressively to start the game and seemingly went for the kill shot from the tip-off. Las Vegas made New York uncomfortable defensively and forced uncharacteristic turnovers and shots from the Liberty. Las Vegas used these opportunities on defense to set up its offense and quickly build its lead again.
The Liberty stole a page out of the aggressiveness playbook and relied on crashing the paint on both ends to spark their comeback in the second quarter. However, just like Game 1, the Aces reset and in the third quarter, started an avalanche that sealed the game. The Aces gave little space on defense and hounded the ball aggressively like it was the last play of the game. The tenacity and attention to detail from the Vegas defense is what has separated the two teams. Vegas is seen constantly communicating on switches, and rotates with a sense of urgency. The Liberty, on the other hand, almost seemed too relaxed on the defensive end. The Aces were able to penetrate the paint with little-to-no resistance, and when the Liberty collapsed the paint, the Aces capitalized with buckets from the outside.
The Aces have clearly relied on the fundamentals and doing their respective jobs on the defensive end to build their leads in both Games 1 and 2. They have kept the game simple, even if they are throwing complex sets on both offense and defense. Surprisingly, the Aces almost seem one step ahead of the Liberty on defense, and the Liberty have yet to figure out a solution. Vegas has prided itself on using its defense to set up its offensive game, and it has lived true through the first two games of the WNBA Finals.
Post-Game Press Conferences
Here are the Liberty post-game press conference featuring coach Sandy Brondello, Jonquel Jones and Breanna Stewart. They discuss what went wrong in Game 2, as well as what to work on as the series heads back to New York.
Aces coach Becky Hammon had her own press conference as she discussed what worked for Vegas in Game 2. She also provided praise for the team’s performance, especially Jackie Young and A’ja Wilson.
Aces starting five Chelsea Gray, Kiah Stokes, Kelsey Plum, A’Ja Wilson and Jackie Young all shared the podium. They discussed their performance in the lopsided victory, as well as staying locked in to secure the title in New York.
The Las Vegas Aces hold a 2-0 lead and are on the cusp of cementing a dynasty. The series will travel to Brooklyn, N.Y., as Game 3 will take place in Barclays Center. The New York Liberty will have to find answers quickly to extend the series. The Aces have largely dominated and look to continue their hot streak for a potential sweep. Overall, the Aces are now 7-0 in the postseason. A silver lining for the Liberty is that the Aces have yet to win in New York this season. Game 3 will take place on Sunday, Oct. 15, with tipoff at 3 p.m. ET. Everything is on the line, as either the Aces will be crowned back-to-back champions or the Liberty will get to play another day.