Battle of the ‘Super Teams’ begins Sunday
Liberty take on reigning champion Las Vegas in WNBA Finals
Liberty head coach Sandy Brondello never fully bought into her squad’s “Super Team” title this year.
Now, she has to.
And her team will get a chance to see if their worthy of being called WNBA champions for the first time in franchise history.
“I didn’t particularly like the ‘Super Team’ thing,” Brondello admitted as the Liberty continued preparing to meet reigning title-holder Las Vegas in Game 1 of the best-of-5 WNBA Finals Sunday at Michelob ULTRA Arena.
“It’s a promotion for the WNBA. We’re playing the champions from last year,” she added.
The media, oddsmakers and the league have been anticipating this clash of “Super Teams” since May, when the WNBA tipped off its first-ever 40-game regular season.
The Aces (39-6) swept past Dallas in their semifinal series and the Liberty (36-9) took out Connecticut in four games to set up the long-awaited clash, which will open in Vegas for the first two games before returning to Downtown Brooklyn on Sunday, Oct. 15 for Game 3.
“We’re going to the Finals because we’re going for a championship,” said WNBA Most Valuable Player Breanna Stewart, who signed with New York as a free agent this winter after winning a pair of titles with Seattle.
“We have the entire city behind us and we know that that’s really special. We still have home games left in Brooklyn.”
The Liberty and Aces are well-acquainted, having met five times during the campaign, including for the Commissioner’s Cup crown on Aug. 15.
New York took its first-ever championship hardware by stunning Vegas on its home floor, 82-63. The teams split their four regular-season encounters, with each defending its turf.
“I think it does help,” Brondello said of the familiarity of facing the Aces four times down the stretch. “I think it helped us a lot to play them back-to-back in August and then again in late August. The chess match begins now.”
The Aces dropped a pair of contests in Brooklyn, but still finished with the most wins in league history and have a chance to be the first back-to-back WNBA champions since the 2001-02 Los Angeles Sparks.
The Liberty, who haven’t been this close to a championship since losing the ’02 finals to L.A., are one of the 27-year-old league’s original eight franchises.
“Someone’s making history,” Aces coach Becky Hammon said. “It’s either we get the back-to-back or New York gets their first one.
“As far as dynasty and all that, we’re (working) on No. 2,” she added. “Before you get to three or four, you’ve got to get to two. We’re just worried and really getting ready for the task at hand and not worried about years down the road.”
New York forward Jonquel Jones, who arrived here from Connecticut via trade after dropping a pair of WNBA Finals, including last year to Vegas, is eager to secure her first championship ring in a Liberty uniform.
“Extremely happy that we can represent the New York Liberty and happy that we’re still playing,” said Jones, who has posted a double-double in scoring and rebounding in each of New York’s first six playoff games.
“This organization hasn’t been here for so long. That makes it really special,” added Brondello, who guided the Phoenix Mercury to the 2014 WNBA crown.
Stewart, a two-time Finals MVP with the Storm, came here to deliver New York’s first championship, but won’t sell the Aces short after watching them both up close and from afar this year.
“Vegas has obviously had an incredible season and we played them tough many times,” she noted. “It’s gonna be a great series.”
The Aces will be spearheaded by last year’s MVP A’ja Wilson, who is averaging team highs of 25.8 points and 11.0 rebounds this postseason.
Stewart is pacing New York’s playoff push with a 19.8-point scoring average after posting a league-record four 40-point games during the regular season.
Jones has amassed a league-high 12.3 rebounds per contest during the Liberty’s ongoing postseason run.
“I think we have a good awareness of what we can do,” Stewart said. “We’re playing against a great team.”
Perhaps one of the best in WNBA history. But that’s only if they can get past their year-long rival “Super Team” from Brooklyn.
“I’m not going to say we’re at the tip top because we haven’t won enough,” Wilson said. “We’re somewhere in the middle of that class.”
The Liberty would like to be in the middle of Brooklyn’s first championship parade since the Dodgers beat the hated Yankees in the 1955 World Series.
“This is the biggest moment of our entire season now,” Stewart said.
Game 1 will tip-off at 3 p.m., and will be televised on ABC.
GIVE ME LIBERTY: New York’s projected Game 1 lineup is Stewart, Jones, Betnijah Laney, Courtney Vandersloot and Sabrina Ionescu. Vegas will likely counter with Wilson, Chelsea Gray, Kiah Stokes, Kelsey Plum and Jackie Young. … Game 2 will be Wednesday night in Vegas at 9 p.m. and will be on ESPN. Game 3 back in Brooklyn on Oct. 15 will be a 3 p.m. tip with ABC televising. Game 4, if necessary, will also be at Barclays Center on Oct. 18. A fifth and decisive game would be back in Sin City on Oct. 20. … Las Vegas went an eye-popping 23-2 at home this year, losing the Commissioner’s Cup to New York and a 78-72 decision to the Sparks on Aug. 19. The Liberty are 17-5 on the road this year, including the playoffs.
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