The Athletic has live coverage. WNBA Finals It shows game 2 New York Liberty vs. Las Vegas Aces
Before the WNBA season started in May, most of the attention and preseason was focused on New York and Las Vegas. The super-team narrative was established before the teams had even played a single quarter. Still, as the season progresses, it seems inevitable that the Aces and Liberty will meet in the WNBA Finals. And here we are. How did we get here? Will the final matches live up to expectations?
Let’s get together. Look at the crowd.
1. How did New York’s independence make it to the finals for the first time since 2002?
The semifinal matchup against the Connecticut Sun was challenging and physical. The Suns finished the season with the league’s second-best defensive rating (96.8) and held New York to a team-low 63 points in the first game. But the Liberty quickly recovered and found the well. Betnijah Laney was a difference maker. After scoring just three points in Game 1, she averaged 20.3 points the rest of the series. Jonkel Jones also came up big, averaging a double-double in the semifinals and being the most consistent player on the floor. But Lani was the X-factor and all seasons. While Breanna Stewart was largely held in check — still averaging 20.5 points in the series — it was Laney who came up with the shots in the period. And her singles defense and speed were also key.
Getting Technical: Who Will Win the WNBA Finals? Our experts predict
2. Why did the sun come short?
We don’t know for sure what will happen, but Briona Jones’ lack of an effective presence in the paint and struggles on the boards will hurt the Suns in this series. That’s not to take anything away from Dewanna Bonner, who guarded Jones as effectively as possible. Connecticut’s bench play was exceptional. Ty Harris, Dejonay Carrington and Olivia Nelson-O’Doda each had their moments of brilliance. Rebecca Allen is up despite missing one game due to illness. But even with all that Alyssa Thomas was doing on the court — scoring, passing, rebounding, running the offense, guarding every position, forcing turnovers — it wasn’t enough. New York made all the right adjustments after Game 1, playing a zone defense in Game 2 and then combining defensive schemes the rest of the series. It worked.
3. How did the Aces get back to the finals?
Two words: Aja Wilson. Throughout the playoffs, Wilson is averaging 25.8 points, 11.2 rebounds and three blocks per game. She controlled both ends of the land. And with four of the Aces’ five starts averaging double figures, the offense hasn’t slowed down. They lead the league in points per game (71.4) and scoring margin (14.8). Las Vegas has also been effective on defense, leading the defense in rebounds per game (31.2) and averaging eight steals and five blocks. It’s the same script we’ve seen all season, with the Aces playing at a high level on both ends of the floor. And that’s why they were able to clean up the Chicago Sky and Dallas Wings when they returned to the Finals.
The best-of-five series for the title between the Aces and Liberty begins Sunday.
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4. What are the wings missing on Aces?
Experience. The Wings are still a young and growing team, and it showed in the last two playoffs. Both were single-digit losses, with the elimination game coming down to a missed shot in the final seconds. Dallas held Las Vegas to just 64 points, but couldn’t be consistent enough on offense. The Aces hit another gear and scored the final 11 points to seal the win. Making it to the semifinals was no easy feat for Dallas. But a lack of playoff experience was a factor in pulling out close games, especially against an Aces team that was battle-tested and had championship pedigree.
5. What are you looking forward to in the finals?
where do i start Competing last year’s MVP with this year’s MVP is a good place to start. Aja Wilson and Breanna Stewart are the league’s best players. Having them compete against each other in the Finals is good for basketball, the WNBA and the fans. This matchup between the No. 1 and No. 2 teams has been hyped up all season. Both teams have talent. Both teams have confirmed head coaches. Both teams have multiple stars and season-ending honorees. They finished 2-2 against each other in the regular season (not counting the Commissioner’s Cup, which Liberty won 82-63). And while we haven’t seen a truly competitive, close regular season yet, the finals are a back-and-forth matchup that could go the distance of five games.
6. Why did Aces win? Why can they lose?
Wilson has scored 30 points or more in three playoff games so far. She has a 35.2 PER per game and is playing amazing basketball. The DPOY at the back is clearly on a mission to repeat. The Aces’ guards – Kelsey Plum, Chelsea Gray and Jackie Young – also scored in their own right, especially on the perimeter, with a combined 51.6 points per game. They are physical and athletic, and play tough and scrappy defense. As mentioned, Las Vegas was here before. This is the Aces’ third playoff appearance in four years. Experience is wealth.
Becky Hammon was mostly based on a six-player rotation and didn’t go to the bench much in the game. A short bench didn’t hinder Las Vegas, but it could, especially if any of the starters get into foul trouble. The lack of size and depth in the frontcourt could be a problem, and Jones could be a matchup controversy.
7. Why did freedom win? Why can they lose?
Breanna Stewart didn’t dominate the playoffs the way she did during the regular season, but the playoffs could be a different story because the stars will shine. This year’s MVP is due for a particular game or multiple games. Jones has shown the difference she can make on the board and scoreboard in the previous two playoff games. And Lenny excels at freedom as she locks down opponents with her one-on-one defense and finds herself on the other end of an open shot. The back court duo of Sabrina Ionescu and Courtney Vandersloot, what they leave behind in athleticism, court awareness and ability to sink 3s. New York also has a deep bench and will likely come into the game.
The Aces have several offensive weapons, and containing Wilson will be a challenge. With a physical defense, New York can struggle to get into an offensive rhythm. Liberty is second in the game in total and they need to take care of the ball better against the Aces as they easily score points.
8. What is your final prediction?
There hasn’t been a back-to-back WNBA champion since the Los Angeles Sparks in 2002. After 21 years, the Aces have a chance to do just that. But it will not be easy. This series has five games written all over it. A championship run will be held in Sin City for the second year in a row, as New York’s first WNBA title would be great.
9. Does Sandy Brondello use her bench more?
I’m not a WNBA coach as experienced as the Liberty coach, but I do. Marin Johannes averages just eight minutes per game for the Liberty, but has had solid games with the Aces in the past, especially in the Commissioner’s Cup. Kayla Thornton has been strong off the bench all season for Liberty, and Stephanie Dolson gives 100 percent when she steps on the floor. Using the bench gives the Liberty a chance to rest their starters more, giving the Aces an advantage against a short bench.
10. Will Skylar Diggins-Smith choose to join a super-group or form her own?
Diggins-Smith undoubtedly has her fair share of groupies. She is a star guard who can put up MVP-caliber numbers. Phoenix hasn’t had a great season, but teaming up with other top-tier players in superteam fashion is the fastest way to get her a ring. Aces sit on guard and so does Liberty. If Diggins-Smith wants to be part of a supergroup, she needs to help form one. Indiana is loaded with rising stars. Or joining Seattle along with Jewell Lloyd and a WNBA draft pick is another option. I don’t know if it can be done from a salary cap standpoint, but Diggins-Smith would make sense as a starting point in Connecticut.
11. How does the sun climb the hill?
Connecticut is so close to becoming a champion. Since 2019, the Suns have lost in either the semi-finals or the final. It’s hard to predict how this season will go with Jones. Connecticut has some roster decisions to make. Bonner and Jones are free agents. It makes sense to try to keep them, then see what changes can be made in other areas. And as I mentioned, having Diggins-Smith at point guard would be an upgrade.
12. Is this still a match between two super-teams?
SUPER TEAM FINAL!!!!!!! #WNBA
— LaChina Robinson (@LaChinaRobinson) October 1, 2023
There has been a lot of debate on social media about the super-team moniker lately. But does the narrative fit? Yes it does. Candace Parker is not playing. But Alisha Clark is still on the floor. Add in Wilson, Gray, Plum and Young, and that’s enough star power for a top team. Last season, the Aces weren’t considered a super-team, but they did have a big three in Wilson, Gray and Plum. After a junior breakout season, she elevated her game to MVP status, winning Most Improved Player. As they stand, both lists meet the definition of a super-group. Still, no matter what it’s called or what it’s billed for, this matchup is everything we could ask for – two of the best teams, with two of the best players in the league, competing for a championship. Let’s focus on that and enjoy what happened.
(Photo of Kayla Thornton, left, and Jackie Young: Ethan Miller/Getty Images)