The New York Liberty gave the WNBA-best Las Vegas Aces fits during the regular season, but the Aces appeared to flip a switch in Game 1 of the #WNBAFinals on Sunday with a 99-82 home victory. Game 2 of the best-of-5 series is tonight back in Las Vegas with the Aces as 5-point favorites, but the SBIA Model leans toward the underdogs as an outright winner at +145.
Kelsey Plum and Jackie Young each scored a career playoff-high 26 points in Game 1 for Las Vegas, Chelsea Gray had 20 points, nine assists and six rebounds on her 31st birthday, and A’ja Wilson added 19 points and eight rebounds. Including the playoffs, Gray has scored or assisted on 1,472 of the Aces' 4,243 total points this season (34.6%), which ranks third in the WNBA in 2023.
In the third quarter with the Liberty leading 55-54, the Aces scored the next six points and never trailed again. They outscored New York 26-16 in the third and shot 60% from the field in the quarter, while the Liberty shot 36.8% and 0 of 4 from deep.
"Their movement got us out of position a little bit," New York coach Sandy Brondello said. "One-on-one defense was critical for us, and they got the upper hand in this game. We know we can defend better."
In the second half overall, the Aces connected on 61.3% of their shots from the field including 40% from three-point range while holding New York to 41.2% from the field and 1 of 9 from deep. Las Vegas made 20 of 23 free throws while New York went 9 for 13. That’s home-court advantage!
Breanna Stewart led New York with 21 points, but Sabrina Ionescu, who had averaged 19.4 points in five meetings against the Aces, was limited to seven points. Betnijah Laney, who had scored at least 19 points in New York's five postseason victories, also had a quiet game with 11. Across the regular season and postseason, the Liberty are 21-2 when Laney scores at least 14 points. In the playoffs, they are 0-2 when she doesn't hit the mark.
These teams continued a pattern from their previous five meetings this season -- including the Commissioner's Cup final -- in which the average victory margin was 19.2 points.
New York hasn’t lost back-to-back games all season. Even after losing by 15 points in Game 1 of the semifinals against the Connecticut Sun, the Liberty rebounded to win three straight, including two contests on the road.