Brooklyn Boro

Liberty looking to ‘steal’ one in Vegas

Hope to even WNBA Finals before return to Brooklyn

October 11, 2023 John Torenli, Sports Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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The New York Liberty haven’t had a losing streak all season.

Now, would be a bad time to start one.

“We haven’t lost two in a row all season long,” Liberty coach Sandy Brondello pointed out as her team took one on the chin in Game 1 of these best-of-5 WNBA Finals Sunday in Las Vegas.

“I trust these players and we’re going to keep competing, keep fighting,” she added ahead of Wednesday night’s Game 2 at Michelob ULTRA Arena.

New York (0-1) suffered a 99-82 loss in Vegas before a sellout crowd that was eager to see the defending champion Aces (1-0) move closer to becoming the first repeat titleholders in the league since the 2001-02 Los Angeles Sparks.

The Liberty will be headed back to Brooklyn for Game 3 on Sunday, but would love to avoid slipping into an ominous 0-2 hole against the Aces, who are an eye-popping 24-1 at home this season, not counting New York’s Commissioner’s Cup championship game win in Sin City on Aug. 15.

“They got the upper hand in (Game 1), but it’s a series,” Brondello noted. “We know we can defend better. We’ve got to make it a little bit harder than what we did.”

New York, an original eight franchise still seeking its first-ever WNBA crown, held a three-point lead at the half Sunday before Vegas went on a 14-4 run early in the third quarter and never looked back.

Aces guards Chelsea Gray, Kelsey Plum and Jackie Young combined for 72 points on 23-of-43 shooting while the Liberty backcourt of Sabrina Ionescu and Courtney Vandersloot only managed 17 points on 6-of-18 shooting, including a 3-of-10 performance from 3-point range.

“It was a really nice combination. Our trio of guards were pretty ridiculous,” Vegas coach Becky Hammon said.

Courtney Vandersloot will try to spearhead New York’s backcourt to a better performance than its Game 1 showing Wednesday. Photo by Brandon Todd/New York Liberty

Overall, New York got only 28 points from its backcourt players while Vegas’ guards went wild.

“We didn’t do a great job of stopping them, obviously,” Brondello ceded. “I think their movement got us out of position a little bit.”

The Liberty would also like to get a stronger inside performance from their fearsome front court, featuring current and former WNBA MVPs Breanna Stewart and Jonquel Jones.

Stewart finished Game 1 with a team-high 21 points, but shot 8-of-19 from the floor and only went to the line for six free throws.

Jones, who has posted a double-double in each of New York’s first seven postseason contests, added 16 points and 10 rebounds in the opener, but was shut down in the second half when Vegas outscored the Liberty, 53-33.

“I felt like they crowded the paint really well,” Jones said of the Aces, who held a 34-30 advantage on the boards and outscored New York at the line, 20-9.

“We only gave up four offensive rebounds, we just couldn’t get any second-chance points, second opportunities,” added Brondello. “They just build a wall.”

The Liberty will try to climb over that wall in Game 2, getting back to the gritty inside game and gaudy outside shooting that prevented them from dropping two in a row all year long.

New York needs Ionescu, the all-time WNBA leader in 3-pointers made during a single season this year, to return to form, after she only drained one shot from beyond the arc in Game 1.

Also, Vandersloot’s savvy and ball-handling skills need to shine through after she was held to 10 points on 4-of-11 shooting and six assists with a pair of turnovers Sunday.

“(Our guards) carried us all season long. We’ll still put the ball in their hands,” Brondello insisted.

Game 2 will tip-off at 9 p.m. and will be televised by ESPN.

Game 3 is back at Barclays Center on Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m. and will air on ABC.

That’s whether the Liberty arrive in Downtown Brooklyn down 0-2 or tied at 1-1 in their first WNBA Finals since 2002.

“Let’s try to steal the next game and take it to New York,” Brondello said.

WNBA MVP Breanna Stewart will try to guide the Liberty back to Brooklyn with a win in Game 2 Wednesday at Michelob ULTRA Arena. Photo by Brandon Todd/New York Liberty

GIVE ME LIBERTY: The Aces shot 10 more free throws than the Liberty in Game 1, but Jones didn’t want to get caught complaining about the officiating. “Just being smart out there, understanding how the refs are calling it. Just being smart,” she said. … New York held a 3-2 series edge over Vegas during the regular season, including its Commissioner’s Cup win. … Game 4, if necessary, will also be in Brooklyn on Oct. 18 at 8 p.m.

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