Professional Basketball

WNBA Finals: Liberty Regroups, Force Game 4


Las Vegas Aces guard Kelsey Plum drives past New York Liberty guard Courtney Vandersloot during Sunday’s WNBA Finals Game 3 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Plum scored a game high 29 points. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine

Knowing they were facing elimination, the New York Liberty set a different tone to Game 3 of the WNBA Finals and downed the defending champion Las Vegas Aces 87-73 in front of a sellout crowd of 17,143 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn on Sunday afternoon. With the win, the Liberty staved off elimination in the best-of-five series and will host Game 4 on Wednesday night.

The game started out with neither team finding the net. The Liberty missed their first four shots. The Aces missed one shot but turned the ball over twice. The first made basket was a tip layup by Liberty guard Benijah Laney coming off of a missed shot by her teammate, Liberty forward Breanna Stewart, with 8:26 remaining in the first quarter.

The teams traded baskets for the next few minutes, leading to a 10-10 tie midway through the quarter. The Liberty made the first run of the game, an 8-0 run with a layup and a three-pointer from center Jonquel Jones, and a three-pointer from guard Courtney Vandersloot. The Aces missed eight straight shots during this stretch.

Las Vegas would strike back as guard Kelsey Plum converted a three-pointer, a layup, and then sank one of two free throws after getting fouled by New York guard Marine Johannes. Plum’s personal 6-0 run made the score 21-18 in favor of the Liberty at the end of the first quarter.

When the second quarter began, Plum hit a three-pointer to tie the score 21-21 and extend her personal run to 9-0. However, Jones, the Liberty’s center, scored a layup and long jumper, and Laney added a three-pointer giving New York a 7-0 run with 8:07 remaining in the half and a 28-21 lead.

New York Liberty forward Breanna Stewart blocks a shot by Las Vegas Aces forward A’ja Wilson during Sunday’s WNBA Finals Game 3 at Barclays Center. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine

The Aces chipped away at the deficit with scoring from Plum, forward A’ja Wilson, and a field goal and layup from guard Chelsea Gray. They nearly tied the score when Plum was able to get a three-point shot off at the buzzer. The ball went into the basket but popped right now. New York led 43-40 at the half.

The Liberty came out of the half with a renewed focus and immediately set to work on building up a larger lead. Vandersloot scored on a layup and jump shot, Stewart and Laney each made layups. New York opened the quarter on an 8-0 run and led 51-40 with 7:08 remaining on the clock when the Aces called a timeout.

Neither team was able to make a run for the rest of the quarter. Every time the Aces scored, the Liberty had a countermeasure. The score was 61-50 in favor of the Liberty when the third quarter ended.

Las Vegas forward Wilson took it upon herself to get her team back into contention midway through the fourth quarter. After getting fouled by Stewart, Wilson made one of two free throws. After Laney missed a three pointer, Wilson scored on a turnaround jumper and then stole a pass from Stewart, who then fouled her. After converting both free throws, Wilson had gone on a personal 5-0 run and cut the deficit to six points as New York led 67-61 with 5:31 left on the clock.

Just when it looked like the Aces were going to get back into the game, catastrophe happened. Aces guard Chelsea Gray was at the free throw line defending against Stewart when it appears that she planted her left foot wrong. Gray limped her way through the rest of the play and into the next one. She was replaced in the lineup by Kierstan Bell when Las Vegas took a timeout with 4:15 remaining in regulation. After saying “my foot popped,” on the sideline during the timeout, Gray hopped on one foot back to the locker room for evaluation and did not return to the game. The Aces were momentarily stunned and New York was able to go on a 12-3 run to take a 79-64 lead with 2:22 left.

New York Liberty forward Breanna Stewart scored 20 points and led her team with 12 rebounds during Sunday’s WNBA Finals Game 3 at Barclays Center. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine

Plum continued to fight to the finish and would score two more three-pointers and a layup plus free throw to try to rally her team back in it, but the deficit was too large. When the final buzzer sounded, the Liberty came out on top 87-73 for their first WNBA Finals win since Sept. 4, 1999.

The Liberty shot 33-for-63 from the field (52.4 percent); 13-for-30 from three-point range (43.3 percent); and 8-for-16 from the free throw line (50 percent). They turned the ball over 11 times leading to 13 Aces points.

“We got back to our identity. We’re a way better team than we’ve shown the last two games,” said Liberty head coach Sandy Brondello. “I’m just proud of the effort and commitment and the connection that we had. Now we got to do it again.”

Las Vegas shot 23-for-69 from the field (33.3 percent); 7-for-22 from three-point range (31.8 percent); and 20-for-23 from the charity stripe (87 percent). They turned the ball over 13 times leading to 14 New York points.

“I felt like we were on our heels from the jump. It’s a feat to beat any team three times in a row. We know they weren’t going to go away,” said Aces head coach Becky Hammon. “We know they’re good in this building. They played better than us tonight, flat out. Played more aggressively, more physical and shot it better.”

New York edged out Las Vegas 34-30 in points-in-the-paint, and also led 12-2 in fast break points. The Aces had a 12-2 advantage in second chance points.

New York Liberty center Jonquel Jones defends against Las Vegas Aces forward A’ja Wilson during Sunday’s WNBA Finals Game 3 at Barclays Center. Jones led New York with 27 points in the Liberty’s first Finals win since Sept. 4, 1999. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine

“We were moving the ball and got back to our identity defeinsively, and that created some offensive stuff. We tweaked a few things,” Brondello admitted.

Liberty center Jonquel Jones led her team with 27 points, Breanna Stewart added 20 points and led the game with 12 rebounds. Sabrina Ionescu dished 11 assists to the lead New York.

“Ultimately we had to have a level of pride coming into this game,” said Jones. “We knew that our fans are going to be behind us and we wanted to go out and play with a lot of pride and a lot of heart.”

Aces guard Kelsey Plum led her team with 29 points. A’ja Wilson added 16 points and led her team with 11 rebounds. Jackie Young recorded five assists for Las Vegas.
“We were stagnant, kind of like the first couple of times we played here this season,” said Plum. “We didn’t do a good job of moving the ball, moving our player, and playing off closeouts which has given us success in our first two games.”

The Liberty still face elimination and will host Game 4 at Barclays Center on Wednesday night at 8 p.m. ET/7 p.m. CT. If New York wins, a decisive Game 5 will be held Friday in Las Vegas.

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