Professional Basketball

WNBA Finals: Aces Bury Liberty, Take 2-0 Series Lead


Las Vegas Aces guard Kelsey Plum went 5-for-8 in three-point shooting and scored 23 points in Wednesday’s WNBA Finals Game 2 in Las Vegas. File photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magaine

The First Law of Holes states, “If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.” The New York Liberty may have learned that lesson, along with the Second Law of Holes that states, “When you stop digging, you are still in a hole.” They dug themselves a first quarter hole so deep in Game 2 of the WNBA Finals that they ran out of time in digging themselves out from it. As a result, the Las Vegas Aces were able to run off to a 104-76 victory in front of 10,232 at Michelob ULTRA Arena on Wednesday night, and now take a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five series.

How deep was that hole? Outside of layups from forward Breanna Stewart and guard Betnijah Laney, the Aces were able to rattle off 21 points in the first half of the first quarter with three-pointers by guard Kelsey Plum, forward Jackie Young and center Kiah Stokes, to go with layups from Young, Stokes and forward A’ja Wilson. With 4:33 left in the first quarter, Las Vegas held a commanding 21-4 lead, one that they would not surrender for the rest of the game.

It could have been worse. Stewart hit a three-pointer and a jump shot, guard Marine Johannes connected on a three-pointer, and guard Sabrina Ionescu managed to get fouled twice in the final minute of the quarter to try to rally the Liberty back into the game.

The first quarter ended with Las Vegas leading 38-19. The 38 points from Las Vegas in the first quarter set a record for most points by a team in the first quarter of a WNBA finals game. The Aces shot 70 percent in the quarter compared to 30 percent for the Liberty.

Las Vegas Aces forward A’ja Wilson led all scorers with 26 points during Wednesday’s WNBA Finals Game 2 in Las Vegas. File photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine

Stokes got the scoring going for the Aces with a quick three-pointer, which was answered by a jump shot from Laney. Aces guard Chelsea Gray hit on a jump shot, and Laney then answered with a three-pointer.

Liberty center Jonquel Jones then took it upon her shoulders to get her team back in rhythm and try to start climbing out of the hole that, for the moment, seemed to have been stopped from enlarging. After Laney’s three-pointer, Jones scored on two put backs and led a 7-0 New York run while Aces forward A’ja Wilson was on the bench.

The teams traded baskets for a few possessions before the Liberty struck again with their next run. Again, it was Jones leading the way. She scored on two layups and a put back, and then was fouled twice while attempting layups, making three-of-four free throw attempts. Ionescu was the only other Liberty player to score in the stretch. The second quarter ended on a 12-2 New York run. The Aces still led 52-44 at the half, but the Liberty had closed the 19 point deficit to eight. Jones 16 points in the frame exceeded the 14 points of the entire Aces team.

The Aces clearly were not happy with the way the first half ended and came out in the third quarter with a renewed focus. A jump shot from Wilson, and two scores from Young with each ending with a converted free throw, gave the Aces an 8-0 run in the first two minutes of the third quarter.

They didn’t stop there. The rest of the quarter was the Wilson, Young and Plum show and New York had no effective means of slowing them down. The Aces outscored the Liberty 28-13 in the quarter, which ended with the score 80-57 in favor of Las Vegas.

New York Liberty guard Betnijah Laney dished out five assists to lead the Liberty effort during WNBA Finals Game 2 in Las Vegas on Wednesday night. File photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine

The teams traded baskets to begin the fourth quarter and eventually the Liberty went on a 7-0 run with two scores from guard Courtney Vandersloot and one from Stewart. But with 4:59 left, Las Vegas still held a 25 point lead and both teams subbed their benches shortly after. Las Vegas finished with a 104-76 win over the Liberty to take Game 2.

The Aces went 37-for-70 from the field (52.9 percent); 13-for-29 from three-point range (44.8 percent) and a perfect 17-for-17 from the free throw line. They gave up 11 turnovers that led to 14 Liberty points.

“It was a great performance. I hope the girls enjoy it tonight. My wine will taste better tonight,” said Aces head coach Becky Hammon. “But my job is to keep us on the straight and narrow with the understanding that we have something building. We’re going to come with the appropriate respect and focus for the moment [on Sunday].”

New York went 26-for-72 from the field (36.1 percent); 8-for-35 from three-point range (22.9 percent); and 16-for-22 from the charity stripe (72.7 percent). The turned the ball over 10 times leading to 13 Las Vegas points.

“We didn’t have any toughness. Their movement was extremely tough for us. They moved the ball extremely well. They’ve got playmakers everywhere,” said Liberty head coach Sandy Brondello. “But we had no resistance. That’s what I’m disappointed about. We didn’t compete. There’s no grit, and we talked about it from the first game. We know how to fight. We’ve got to find some urgency. We’ve got to take some pride in playing better than what we did. Nobody’s at all happy or satisfied with how we played these last two games.”

New York Liberty center Jonquel Jones scored 22 points to lead her team during Wednesday night’s WNBA Finals Game 2 in Las Vegas. File photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine

Las Vegas led 32-30 in points-in-the-paint; 15-14 in second chance points; and 11-3 in fast break points. Each team had nine bench points.

“When we’re great defensively, we’re great offensively. That’s the whole key,” said Hammon.

A’ja Wilson led all scorers with 26 points. Jackie Young added 24 and Kelsey Plum pitched in 23 for the Aces. Wilson led all rebounders with 15. Chelsea Gray dished a game-high 11 assists.

“The game is going to go a lot of different ways but the team that does big on the little things is the team that comes up with the win. I think the biggest thing for us is just being mentally tough,” said Wilson.

Jonquel Jones led New York with 22 points. Breanna Stewart added 14 and Betnijah Laney 12 for the Liberty. Stewart’s 13 rebounds and Laney’s five assists led New York in those statistical categories.

“Things are too easy for them. We have to dig deeper and be a little tougher to make things a little bit harder and come out with some more grit,” said Jones.

With Las Vegas holding a 2-0 lead, the Liberty now face elimination as the series reverts to Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. for Game 3 on Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m. ET/2 p.m. CT.

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