Before the WNBA season even began, the two teams everyone predicted to be the two teams that would face off for the title were the Las Vegas Aces and the New York Liberty. After all, the Las Vegas Aces were the defending champions. Second, the New York Liberty acquired several talented players during the offseason, which instantly moved them into the title contender conversation.
As expected, these two teams finished with the best records in the WNBA this season. The Las Vegas Aces were 34-6, while the Liberty finished just two games behind them at 32-6. The Liberty swept the Washington in the opening round. And while New York did lose the opener in its semifinal matchup against the Connecticut Sun, it righted the ship by taking the next three games. This marks the first time the Liberty have been to the Finals since 2002.
Meanwhile, the Aces swept the Chicago Sky in the opening round of the playoffs. Even though the Dallas Wings proved to be a bigger challenge for the defending champs, they swept the Wings in three games. The Aces are looking to make a bit of history as well as no team has won back-to-back titles since the Los Angeles Sparks accomplished the feat in 2001-02.
In the first half of this highly-anticipated matchup, the two teams battled to a near stalemate, with the Liberty taking a three-point lead (49-46) into the break. The Aces turned things up a notch at both ends of the floor, turning a competitive contest into a lopsided outcome. The Aces won the game 99-82 and they remain undefeated in postseason play.
Here are the biggest takeaways from the Aces’ Game 1 win over the Liberty.
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New York Liberty vs. Las Vegas Aces Takeaway #3: A Tale Of Two Halves
The New York Liberty were raining down 3-point shots in the first half of this contest. This especially holds true for Marine Johannes. She had scored a total of just five points entering this Finals matchup. However, she scored 14 points in the first half, knocking down four of her seven attempts from beyond the arc.
Two things happened in the second half. First, the Liberty produced just one more 3-point shot. Second, the Aces came out of the halftime break and played with purpose. How good was the Aces’ defense in the second half? Well, they held New York to just 33 points. Not only that, but the Aces also limited New York to just 31 percent shooting from the floor. They came into this matchup holding opponents to 38.3 percent shooting.
New York Liberty vs. Las Vegas Aces Takeaway #2: Aces Win Battle Of The Boards & Outshoot Liberty From Three-Point Range
The Liberty beat the Aces twice during the regular season and in the Commissioner’s Cup as well. In those three contests, New York was a plus-57 on the glass. Additionally, New York outscored Las Vegas by a whopping 66 points from beyond the arc.
In Game 1, however, the narrative was a bit different. Not only did Las Vegas Aces hold their own in the battle of the boards, but they held a 34-30 edge in this category. This is not a huge advantage by any means, but it was certainly better than we saw in the Aces’ three losses to the Liberty during the regular season.
Another area in which New York held a decisive advantage over the Aces coming into the Finals series was 3-point shooting. They were the best 3-point shooting team in the league during the regular season. And in their three wins over Las Vegas, they outscored by 66 points. No, that is not a misprint.
As was the case with the rebounding stats, the Aces flipped this narrative on its head as well. Both teams made nine 3-point field goals. But the Aces shot the long ball at a more efficient rate going 9-for-22 (40.9 percent), while the Liberty were 9-for-29 (31 percent).
The Aces knew they needed to be better in these areas, and they made a concerted effort to do exactly that
New York Liberty vs. Las Vegas Aces Takeaway #1: Aces’ Backcourt Came To Play
Whenever you talk about the Aces, the first name that comes to mind is A’ja Wilson, and rightfully so. She is a two-time MVP and a two-time Defensive Player of the Year as well.
Wilson led the team in scoring during the regular season and that trend has continued in the playoffs, as she leads the field in scoring at 25.8 points per contest through the first two rounds of the playoffs. In the series, opener, though, it was her teammates that showed up and showed out.
Kelsey Plum finished with 26 points and five rebounds. Jackie Young also scored 26 points to go along with six rebounds and four assists. Reigning Finals MVP, Chelsea Gray, chipped in with 20 points, six rebounds, and nine assists. This group became the first trio to record 20 points and five rebounds in a Finals series contest.
Meanwhile, New York’s backcourt trio had a rough day at the office compared to their counterparts. Jacquel Jones (16 points 10 rebounds), Courtney Vandersloot (10 points on 4-for-11 shooting), and Sabrina Ionescu (7 points) produced just 30 points between them on 13-for-30 shooting from the field. This is an area where New York will have to improve if it has any hopes of dethroning the defending champs.
Overall, the Aces dominated the second half of this game just like they did in the regular season and the playoffs as well. Given the fact that playoff basketball is about making adjustments from one game to the next, the Liberty are more than capable of coming back with a better effort than what we saw in the second half of Game 1.
On the flip side of the narrative, though, if they are not able to take the Aces out of what they do well at either end of the floor, the Aces will win this series hands down.