When it became official that the two best teams in the WNBA were going to face off in the WNBA Finals, the assumption was we were heading towards a classic series. Two evenly-matched teams. A plethora of talent and stars on both sides. A season series that ended at 2-2.
Instead, we’ve gotten utter domination, with Las Vegas winning both games by a combined 45 points. Now, New York is heading home and has to win three-straight games to be crowned champions—a feat no WNBA team has accomplished after being down 0-2. How can the Liberty get this done? What pitfalls from Game 1 and 2 do they have to remedy to do so?
Can the Liberty’s guards guard the Aces’ guards?
New York has had no answer for the Las Vegas guards. NONE.
Jackie Young has been *incredible* in this series. pic.twitter.com/Gqr1rPoCsg— Steve Jones Jr. (@stevejones20) October 12, 2023
Not only have the Liberty failed to take anything away from the Aces’ guards offensively, but the trio of Kelsey Plum, Chelsea Gray and Jackie Young are outperforming their season averages in points, rebounds and assists through the series’ first two games. The only exception is Plum in the rebounding category, where she averaged four per game during the regular season and is averaging three in the Finals.
All the guards have been exceptional for Las Vegas, but Young has been the cream of the crop as she has averaged 25 points per game. She has bullied Sabrina Ionescu by going downhill and attacking the paint. She’s also shooting a whopping 53 percent from deep. Courtney Vandersloot hasn’t fared better than Ionescu, appearing a couple steps too slow to keep up with Young’s quickness. Liberty head coach Sandy Brondello will have to devise a strategy to slow Young down and get the ball out of her hands—or else we could be looking at a series sweep.
New York has to stop the unstoppable A’ja Wilson
Before the series started, we emphasized A’ja Wilson’s importance and she has been a deciding factor in this series. Instead of putting her in the paint and posting her up against the likes of Jonquel Jones, the Aces have run more motion offense and placed Wilson on the perimeter. This has resulted in two key things. One, Wilson has been able to force her defenders to guard her on the wings, where she has the advantage given her speed, ball handling and brute force. Two, by leaving the paint and taking her defender with her, she’s opened up driving lanes for her guards. And clearly, they’ve taken advantage of that spacing to attack the rim freely.
Even as she has played away from the basket more frequently, Wilson leads the series in rebounds, averaging 11.5 per game while also scoring 22.5 points. With Wilson spreading the floor and her teammate’s benefitting from it, the Vegas offense is unstoppable. You can’t stop Wilson, but New York must try to interrupt her flow. Maybe that means getting more physical, putting her in more pick-and-rolls on the other end or resorting to a box-and-one defensive strategy. I don’t know, but do something—anything—differently because the current methods have not been working.
The Liberty’s big-time players must make big-time plays
While the Aces have done a lot to put themselves in this position, the Liberty stars have to take ownership and look within themselves. They have not been playing well. Stewart and Ionescu are both underperforming, but Ionescu’s 8.8 points per game is shocking. Even her biggest critic wouldn’t have predicted two games this abysmal from the All-Star guard. The Aces starting Game 2 on a 19-2 run in is a testament to their greatness, but also an indictment of New York. It looks like you didn’t come prepared to play, as your energy and focus didn’t match your opponent’s. It’s cruel, but there’s no other way to describe what happened.
New York will have undergo a 180-degree shift on Sunday to prevent that from happening again. The good news is they have the capacity to do so. We’ve seen them dominate this team before, with Ionescu hitting 3s, Jones attacking the paint and Marine Johannès coming off the bench to cause a ruckus. They’ll have the crowd on their side. And with all the chatter about this choke job and the sense of desperation with their season hanging in the balance, I’d be surprised if we get another blowout loss from New York. They’ll come with the right energy and give it their best shot. Time will tell if that’ll be enough.