Aces rout Liberty 104-76, take 2-0 series lead in WNBA Finals

ByAlexa Philippou ESPN logo
Sunday, October 15, 2023

LAS VEGAS -- For all the hype and hoopla surrounding the WNBA Finals matchup between the league's two "superteams," and amid high expectations of a competitive series, one squad has largely dominated. After two games, one is a win away from clinching the 2023 WNBA championship: the Las Vegas Aces.

The Aces took a resounding 2-0 series lead over the New York Liberty behind a statement 104-76 Game 2 victory Wednesday at Michelob Ultra Arena, positioning themselves to become the first repeat champions since 2001-02.

"They don't leave me speechless very often, but they executed defensively, offensively shared it," Aces coach Becky Hammon said. "Everything we've been asking them to do ... they're the real deal. Their competitiveness and their fight for each other, they're a real team."

Teams that go up 2-0 in a best-of-five WNBA playoff series are 17-0 all time. In the Finals, teams have lost all eight series in which they trailed 0-2 and were swept in seven of the eight instances. Either the Aces will complete the championship sweep or the Liberty will manage to keep their season alive Sunday when the teams reconvene for Game 3 at 3 p.m. ET (ABC) in New York.

New York had not lost back-to-back games all season, but on Wednesday the Aces played some of their best basketball since Hammon took over in 2022. It started from the opening frame, when the Aces jumped ahead by 10 points within the first 2:36. Las Vegas led by 20 points with 3:18 remaining in the first quarter and by 22 points 33 seconds into the second.

"Great defense, playing out of our defense, unselfish and just our physicality went up another level starting the game," 2022 Finals MVP Chelsea Gray said.

Las Vegas shot 70% from the field and 60% from 3 in the first period (6-for-10), with each of its five starters (including postA'ja Wilsonand defensive specialist Kiah Stokes) knocking down at least one trey. Aside from the second quarter, when the Liberty fed center Jonquel Jones (who finished with 22 points, 10 rebounds) and cut the deficit to eight at the half, the Aces were fully in control and showcased why they are arguably one of the best teams the league has seen.

The Aces' high-powered offense -- which put up 99 points in Game 1 -- continued the onslaught in Game 2, as Las Vegas became the first team in WNBA history to shoot 50% from the field and 40% from 3 in back-to-back Finals games.

"We have a lot of faith in each other," guard Kelsey Plum said. "It's just a testament of playing team ball."

Wilson (26 points), Jackie Young (24 points) and Plum (23 points) collectively nearly scored as many points as the Liberty (73 vs. 76). The Aces' Big 4 of Gray, Plum, Wilson and Young combined for 91 points in Game 1 and 87 points in Game 2 -- a total of 178 points that are the most by a quartet of teammates in a two-game span in WNBA playoffs history. Las Vegas has yet to drop a playoff game.

"We're a group that has been together for a little while and we've been through the highs, the lows, the roller coaster that this game brings," Wilson said. "I think it's just a beautiful thing to watch unfold and flourish."

That, paired with what Liberty coach Sandy Brondello considered even better and more physical defense on the Aces' part, helped spark the rout. The Liberty's 36.1% shooting from the field and 22.9% clip from 3 were both worse than their Game 1 numbers. Two-time Finals MVP Breanna Stewart was limited to 14 points on 6-for-17 shooting, while guards Sabrina Ionescu and Courtney Vandersloot struggled once again (19 points on 5-for-19 shooting).

"We had no resistance, and that's what I'm disappointed about, is that we didn't compete," Brondello said. "There was no grit. And we talked about it, from the first game, and 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. No one's at all very happy or satisfied with how we played these last two games."

The Aces have outscored the Liberty by 45 points in this series, the third-largest point differential by any team through two games of a best-of-five WNBA playoff. It's a complete reversal from the August matchups between these star-studded squads, a month in which the Liberty beat the Aces three times.

"Vegas is playing their best basketball at the moment. They're playing with all the confidence. You see the chemistry that they have. And for us, we haven't taken steps forward," Brondello said. "We haven't shown it."

Added Hammon: "We had our little rough stretch, and we should -- every team should have a rough stretch. You shouldn't go through the season just skipping along. When you hit the rough patches, you get to see what you're made of. And I know what my team is made of."

ESPN Stats & Information contributed to this report.

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