The New York Liberty return home for Game 3 of the 2023 WNBA Finals, and they’ve got some work to do in order to stave off elimination at the hands of the defending champion Las Vegas Aces.
Save for a competitive first half in Game 1, New York has been outmatched by Las Vegas in just about every department. The Aces have outscored the Liberty by a total of 45 points in just 80 minutes of basketball, with New York looking ill-equipped to handle the highly-potent Aces offense while several of its own biggest weapons have gone quiet at the worst possible time.
Making matters worse for the Liberty, if they’re going to pull off an improbable Finals comeback, it will eventually need to be done on the Aces’ home court—a location which, needless to say, has not been particularly friendly to them thus far. First, though, New York will have to take care of business in Brooklyn, and there’s a laundry list of things that need to go in the Liberty’s favor for that to happen.
New York’s guards must produce offensively
The Liberty’s perimeter trio of Sabrina Ionescu, Courtney Vandersloot and Betnijah Laney is one of the most talented in the WNBA, mainly due to their collective playmaking ability. New York’s guards can get blistering-hot themselves, too; Ionescu, in particular, just recorded one of the best shooting seasons in league history, shooting 44.8 percent on 7.9 3-point attempts per game.
That offense has been missing in action against the Aces, though—and that’s something the Liberty can’t afford. That’s because Las Vegas also has three elite starting guards, and they’ve run roughshod over New York’s defense in the Finals. Jackie Young and Kelsey Plum have totaled 50 and 49 points, respectively, in two games, while point guard Chelsea Gray has dissected New York to the tune of 34 points and 20 assists.
Compare that to New York’s backcourt production (17 points from Ionescu, 19 from Vandersloot and 23 from Laney) and it’s not difficult to see why the Liberty find themselves in a 0-2 hole in the series. New York’s guards, simply put, must get it together, or there won’t even be a Game 4, let alone an opportunity to make a Finals comeback.
The Liberty need to close the gap in 3-point production
Can the WNBA be considered a “make or miss league?”
If so, the Liberty have decidedly been on the wrong side of such 3-point shooting variance in the Finals. No WNBA team took more of its shots from beyond the arc than the Liberty (42.4 percent) during the regular season. But rather than carry that success onto the biggest stage, the 3-point shot has completely deserted them. New York is just 17-for-64 (26.6 percent) on 3s thus far in the Finals. Considering how dependent the Liberty are on the long ball, such inaccuracy has dug them a significant hole offensively.
The Aces, in contrast, have been downright scorching shooting the ball, totaling 22-for-51 (43.1 percent) on 3-pointers. Granted, Las Vegas isn’t quite as reliant on knocking down outside jumpers as New York, but every team will look better when they go in. Only one Finals squad has been able to say that in 2023.
It’s one thing to say that the Liberty need to limit the Aces’ 3-point production and another thing entirely for them to actually do it. With the way Las Vegas spaces the floor, it’s going to be difficult for New York to sufficiently contest those shots while also protecting the rim and painted area, and jumpshot defense in professional basketball oftentimes comes down to simply getting lucky. The Liberty could certainly help their own case by making a few of their own, however.
Stewart has to play like the MVP she is
Liberty forward Breanna Stewart won regular-season Most Valuable Player honors for the second time in her career in 2023, but she’s looked far from the WNBA’s best player in the Finals. That’s been Stewart’s counterpart, A’ja Wilson, who has soundly outplayed Stewart on both ends of the floor.
Stewart and Wilson have matched up plenty of times over the years, with each player taking turns being part of the favored team. It’s rarely been a lopsided individual matchup, and it’s not like Stewart is single-handedly losing the Finals for New York this time around, either.
Still, we’ve grown accustomed to seeing superhuman performances from Stewart in the playoffs, and she’s fallen well short of that standard in the 2023 Finals. Stewart’s modest 38.9 percent shooting efficiency from the floor pales in comparison to Wilson’s (65.4 percent), and the pure undeniability she’s shown so many times in the past hasn’t been there. Fans have been waiting for Stewart to either take over a game for the Liberty or, at the very least, keep them in one, but neither has happened. If New York is to stay alive in the Finals, Stewart must at least play Wilson to a draw the rest of the way.
No. 2 seed New York Liberty (0-2) vs. No. 1 seed Las Vegas Aces (2-0)
When: Sunday, Oct. 15 at 3 p.m. ET
Where: Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY
How to watch: ABC
Liberty injury report: Han Xu (out; not with team)