The first two games of the WNBA Finals between the New York Liberty and Las Vegas Aces were very one-sided. Las Vegas trailed at the halftime break in Game 1 before cruising to a 99-82 victory.
In Game 2, the Aces set a WNBA record by scoring 38 points in the first quarter on 14-for-20 shooting from the floor. Although New York did trim the deficit to single digits, the Aces eventually won by a comfortable 104-76 margin – their seventh straight postseason victory.
With the venue shifting to New York for the next two games, the Liberty knew they needed to adjust to keep their championship aspirations alive, and boy did they ever. Like the series opener, the game was competitive through the first 20 minutes of action, as New York led 43-40 going into intermission.
The Aces were the better team in the second half of Games 1 and 2. However, the Liberty turned that trend around in Game 3. As a result, they went on to win the game by an 87-73 margin, which was the team’s first win of a WNBA Finals game since September of 1999.
Here are the biggest takeaways from New York’s much-needed win in Game 3.
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Takeaway #3: Chelsea Gray Injury Could Be Cause For Concern For Las Vegas
Chelsea Gray played a key role in the Aces’ title run last season. In the four-game set against the Connecticut Sun in last year’s WNBA Finals, Gray compiled averages of 18.3 points and six assists per contest. Not only was she one of the team’s top scorers, but she was also very efficient.
She shot 58.9 percent from the field and 56.3 percent from beyond the arc. Because of her outstanding play, the Aces’ guard was named Finals MVP.
Gray’s all-around performances have continued into this finals series as well. In the series opener, her stat line included 20 points, nine assists, and six rebounds.
In Game 2, Gray scored 14 points, handed out 11 assists, and grabbed six rebounds. Her per-game averages through the first two contests were 17 points, 10 assists, and six rebounds. And prior to Game 3 on Sunday, Gray was averaging 16.3 points and 7.4 assists per contest in the postseason.
But in Game 3, the narrative was noticeably different. Thanks to a few defensive adjustments by the Liberty, Gray’s numbers were not as impressive compared to what we saw in the first two contests.
She finished with 11 points, three rebounds, three steals, and two assists. Even more important, she exited the game with 4:15 left in the fourth quarter with what is being called a foot injury.
Given the fact that Gray is the Aces’ floor general, the Aces could be in dire straits if she’s not able to play in Game 4 or the rest of the series.
Takeaway #2: Liberty Rediscover Shooting Touch, Home-Court Advantage Over Aces Continues
During the regular season, the New York Liberty were one of the top-scoring teams in the association. They posted an offensive rating of 109.6, which was the third-highest rating in WNBA history.
But in the first two games of the series, they were not themselves. After shooting a respectable 46.4 percent from the field in Game 1, the Aces outscored New York 53-33 en route to a 17-point victory.
In Game 2, New York shot 36 percent from the floor and was once again outscored by a wide margin in the second half (52-32), and the Aces won the game 104-76. Would playing in front of its home crowd make a difference?
For starters, New York shot an efficient 52.9 percent from the field. Following an outing in which they shot 22.9 percent from 3-point range, the Liberty converted 43.3 percent of their attempts from beyond the arc. They also tied a franchise record for most three-point field goals in a playoff game (13). Furthermore, the ball movement was phenomenal as New York tallied 28 assists on 33 made field goals. It doesn’t get much better than that.
Another trend worth mentioning is how well New York has played against Las Vegas on its home floor during the regular season. Back in early August, New York knocked off the defending champs by a whopping 99-61 margin, handing Las Vegas its third loss on the season. Three weeks later – although the final score was far more respectable this time around – New York came out on top again 94-85.
With their championship aspirations on life support, the Liberty played well once again in front of their home crowd. After securing a much-needed win in Game 3, New York knows it still has a lot of work to do looking ahead to Game 4.
Takeaway #1: New York Liberty Get Defensive
During the regular season, the Liberty had the fourth-best scoring defense in the league, giving up 80.6 points per contest. And through the first two rounds of the playoffs, that trend continued, as they allowed 80 points per contest.
That was not the case in the first two games of this series, as they gave up an average of 101.5 points per game against the Aces. But with the home crowd cheering them on, the Liberty improved their level of play at the defensive end of the floor.
Coming off a Game 2 that saw the Aces shoot 52.9 percent from the floor and 44.8 percent from beyond the arc, New York wasn’t having any of that in Game 3. The Liberty limited the Aces to 33.3 percent overall and 31.8 percent from 3-point range.
As it was mentioned earlier, Las Vegas outscored New York by 20 points in the second halves of the first two games. This includes a 25-point advantage in the third quarter alone.
New York flipped this narrative as well, outscoring the Aces 18-10 in the third quarter. Not only that, but the Liberty also limited the Aces to just 33 points in the second half.
Thanks to a much-improved effort on defense, New York also outscored Las Vegas by a 12-2 margin in fast break points. Although this was an impressive victory by the home team, the Liberty know they will have to play with the same level of intensity to force a Game 5 back in Las Vegas.