Libs look title-worthy after crushing Aces
New York relishes 'statement' win over defending champs
Round Two of the battle of the WNBA’s “Super Teams” went to New York last Sunday afternoon in front of a record-setting crowd of 11,418 Liberty faithful.
And the defending league champions and owners of the best record in the sport didn’t like it one bit.
“That’s a good old-fashioned ass-whooping,” Las Vegas coach Becky Hammon conceded following New York’s 99-61 dismantling of her team in front of the most fans ever to take in a Liberty game since the franchise relocated to Downtown Brooklyn’s Barclays Center.
The Aces (24-3), who downed New York 98-81 in the initial showdown in Vegas on June 29, entered the rematch on an eight-game winning streak, one shy of their season high.
But the Liberty used a 30-9 third quarter and a team record-tying 17 3-pointers, six of which were buried by All-Star 3-Point Shootout champion Sabrina Ionescu, to flush the Aces’ hopes of going up 2-0 in the regular-season series.
“We just proved to ourselves what we’re able to do,” said Ionescu, who led the way with 31 points, seven assists and six rebounds as New York (21-6) completed its fifth four-game winning streak of the campaign.
“We’ve set the level of how we need to play every single game in order to be at our best,” she added.
Reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Month Breanna Stewart scored 18 of her 23 points in the second half, Jonquel Jones posted her sixth double-double in the last seven games with 12 points and 14 boards and Betnijah Laney added 13 points and nine rebounds for New York.
“This is the best team in the WNBA right now and they were coming onto our home floor. They kicked our butts the last time we saw them, so there’s an extra level of focus that it takes,” said Liberty point guard Courtney Vandersloot after putting up 10 points and six helpers.
“And this isn’t a team that you can just come in and show up and roll the ball out and play,” she added. “You really have to game plan and execute, and I think that we did a good job of that (Sunday).”
The Aces’ margin of defeat was their largest since the team’s relocation to Sin City in 2018.
“I don’t mind getting our ass whooped every now and then,” said Hammon. “It’s a good reminder that you’re still human and you’ve got to go out and prove it every moment. Lord knows we’re going to see them plenty this year.”
They certainly will.
New York and Vegas will clash in the Commissioner’s Cup championship game in Las Vegas on Aug. 15.
The teams, heavy favorites to face off in this year’s WNBA FInals, will meet two days later for their third regular-season encounter on Aug. 17 at Michelob Ultra Arena before finishing up their scheduled four-game slate at Barclays on Aug. 28.
Before these epic games, the Liberty will have to tune-up for Friday’s visit by Chicago (12-15), which is holding the WNBA’s eighth and final playoff spot thanks to a three-game winning streak.
“I think the statement we made (against Vegas) was we’re a team that plays hard and when we lock in and are all on the same page defensively and offensively it’s hard to stop,” said Stewart.
Despite its well-chronicled infusion of talent this past offseason, New York has yet to put together a five-game winning streak, something it hopes to accomplish against the Sky this weekend on the corner of Atlantic and Barclays.
“We’re not sitting here jumping for joy that we beat (the Aces),” Ionescu reminded everyone at the post-game press conference.
“It’s just a wake-up call of how good we can actually be, and that’s the standard of New York basketball. Now we have to continue to get better throughout the next month.”
Off to the best 27-game start in franchise history, the Liberty are 1 1/2 games in front of second-place Connecticut (20-7) for the top spot in the Eastern Conference with 13 to play.
Vegas stands atop the league by 2 1/2 games over New York, and is running away with the West by 9 1/2 games over Dallas.
The Aces were stymied by the Liberty’s defense Sunday as reigning MVP A’ja Wilson caught an elbow to the face from Jones in the first half and misfired on all but two of her 14 shots en route to nine points.
Las Vegas was averaging a WNBA-best 94.4 points per game entering the second meeting of the year between the league’s goliaths. The Aces fell 33 points shy of that standard during their first trip to the Barclays hardwood.
“It was one of our best defensive games all season long,” Liberty coach Sandy Brondello noted. “We’ve been preaching a way we want to play. … Everyone was on the same page. Great defensive teams aren’t just one player, sometimes it’s just playing harder.”
The Liberty will have to continue going as hard as they can if they hope to march down Flatbush Avenue in October during our borough’s first pro sports championship parade since 1955.
GIVE ME LIBERTY: The Liberty announced they would donate $500 for every assist handed out by Vandersloot the rest of the year to raise “support and awareness” for the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation. Vandersloot’s mother, Jan, was diagnosed with the cancer last year. … After hosting the Sky on Friday, the Liberty will kick off a three-game road trip Sunday in Indian. Tip-off will be at 3 p.m. vs. the Fever and the contest will be televised on ESPN. The game against Chicago Friday will be on ION TV.
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