Liberty trying to stay alive at Barclays
Host injury-plagued Aces for Game 4 of WNBA Finals
The New York Liberty hope to welcome another record-setting crowd to Downtown’s Barclays Center Wednesday night, and send their fans home with the dream of celebrating the franchise’s first-ever WNBA title this weekend in Las Vegas.
After staving off elimination here Sunday before the highest recorded attendance in league history, the Liberty will host the defending champion Las Vegas Aces for Game 4 of the best-of-5 WNBA Finals.
“I’m proud of the effort and the commitment that we had. Now, we have to do it again,” Liberty coach Sandy Brondello said after New York kept its title drive alive with a stirring 87-73 triumph over Vegas in Game 3 Sunday before a legion of 17,143 Brooklyn basketball fanatics.
After dropping the first two contests in Sin City, the Liberty (1-2) bounced back into contention as Jonquel Jones spearheaded the New York attack with 27 points, eight rebounds and seven assists.
“It helps when you’re at home, what an amazing crowd,” Brondello gushed. “It was great all the support we got, and hopefully we’ll take that home-court advantage Wednesday as well.”
Jones drained four of the Liberty’s series-high 13 3-pointers as New York snapped Vegas’ undefeated run through the postseason and denied the Aces in their initial shot at becoming the league’s first back-to-back champions since the 2001-02 Los Angeles Sparks.
“Just so really, really proud of JJ,” Brondello said of Jones, who lost the WNBA Finals to the Aces last year as a member of the Connecticut Sun.
“She’s so important for us, her will to win,” Brondello added. “She’s a superstar this girl. … We’re gonna need her to do it again on Wednesday.”
WNBA Most Valuable Player Breanna Stewart added 20 points and 12 rebounds, Sabrina Ionescu handed out 11 assists and Betnijah Laney and Courtney Vandersloot had 12 points apiece for the Liberty, who can force a Game 5 back in Vegas on Sunday with a win here Wednesday night.
“That’s what it takes,” Jones said of New York’s win in Game 3. “When you build that level of trust and you see a team that’s locked in and plays at a level that we played at.”
Jones, Stewart and Vandersloot came here during general manager Jonathan Kolb’s impressive offseason haul, creating a “Super Team” here in Brooklyn that was destined to contend with the Aces for the 2023 crown.
New York won three of five contests against Vegas during the season, including a victory in the Commissioner’s Cup championship game at Michelob ULTRA Arena on Aug. 15.
But the Aces (2-1) came roaring out of the gate at home in this series, cruising to a 99-82 victory in Game 1 and hammering New York by a 104-76 count in Game 2.
The Liberty got back to their “defensive identity” in Game 3, according to Brondello.
And Stewart began to heat up with an 8-for-16 shooting performance after going 14-for-36 from the floor over the first two games.
“I think just taking a look at ourselves and taking a look in the mirror and understanding that the basketball we played those two games in Vegas, wasn’t anything we were proud of,” admitted Stewart, who won two Finals MVPs with the Seattle Storm before signing here last winter.
The Aces, already owners of the most wins in a single season in WNBA history, will be short-handed for Game 4 with guard Chelsea Gray and center Kiah Stokes unavailable due to foot injuries.
Gray, who is averaging 15.6 points and 6,8 assists in the playoffs this year, left Game 3 in the fourth quarter and did not return after putting up 11 points.
“We lost our general,” Vegas coach Becky Hammon said of Gray, who has combined with Jackie Young and Kelsey Plum to form a lethal backcourt triumvirate in this series.
“I don’t think there’s any one person that’s going to step up and fill her shoes,” Hammon added.
Stokes didn’t score in Game 3, but did pull down nine rebounds. She is averaging 7.9 boards per contest, second only to A’ja Wilson’s 11.3 during the Aces’ ongoing playoff run.
Gray may be available for Game 5, if necessary.
“Obviously the timing (stinks),” she told the Associated Press. “There’s only a couple games left in our season.”
And only one game left for New York if its doesn’t find a way to get past Vegas again and send this series back across the country.
“We know we’re capable of much more,” Brondello insisted. “We’re locked in and we’re ready for Wednesday. … Keep the foot on the pedal.”
“We’re really happy to continue to keep our season alive. But we have a lot of work to do,” added Stewart.
Game 4 is scheduled to tip-off at 8 p.m. and will be televised by ESPN.
GIVE ME LIBERTY: The Aces will likely rely on guard Sydney Colson and forward Cayla George to fill the voids left by Gray and Stokes in Game 4. … Ionescu, who set the WNBA record for 3-pointers made this season, went 3-for-7 from beyond the arc in Game 3. She is shooting at a 39.7 percent clip from long range in the postseason, going 6-for-19 thus far in this series. … The Liberty were defeated in each of their previous four trips to the WNBA Finals in 1997, 1999, 2000 and 2002. … Game 5, if necessary, will be in Las Vegas on Friday night at 9 p.m. and televised by ESPN.
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