New York Liberty defeat Las Vegas Aces, force Game 4

ByAlexa Philippou ESPN logo
Monday, October 16, 2023

BROOKLYN, N.Y. -- The New York Liberty looked like a shell of themselves during the first two games of the WNBA Finals, which they lost by a combined 45 points. But with their backs against the wall Sunday, they staved off elimination with a 87-73 Game 3 victory, keeping their championship hopes alive by improving to 2-1 in the best-of-five series.

"We had a fight. We got back to our identity," New York coach Sandy Brondello said. "We're a way better team than what we've showed the last two games. I'm just proud of the effort and the commitment and the connection that we had, but now we've got to do it again."

"We knew that our fans were going to be behind us and New York was going to be watching and supporting," Jonquel Jonessaid, "and that's what we wanted to do, go out there and play with a lot of pride and a lot of heart."

The game marked New York's first WNBA Finals win since 1999. The Liberty -- the league's only still-operating original franchise that has yet to win a championship -- are playing in their first Finals since 2002. The crowd of 17,143 was the largest gate attendance for a WNBA Finals game in league history.

The Aces are now 0-3 at Barclays Center this season. Game 4 is Wednesday in Brooklyn (8 p.m. ET).

Teams that go up 2-0 in best-of-five WNBA playoff series have gone on to win those series each time -- specifically in the Finals, which have featured sweeps in seven of nine instances, with both non-sweeps happening to Las Vegas this year and last. The Aces defeated the Connecticut Sun in four games when they won their first championship a year ago.

Aces point guard Chelsea Gray-- MVP of the 2022 Finals -- left Sunday's game midway through the fourth quarter because of an apparent foot injury and did not return to the bench. Coach Becky Hammon did not have an update on her status.

Jones played like her 2021 MVP form, finishing with 27 points on 10-for-15 shooting (4-for-7 from 3, tied for the most she has made in a game all summer), 8 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 blocks and 2 steals, mostly defending two-time league MVPA'ja Wilson(4-for-16 shooting).

"I just came in energized that we had a new opportunity," Jones said. "Playing with a lot of passion and not wanting to let the moment pass us by and have that 'what if' type of feeling."

"She's a superstar, this girl," Brondello added. "She's carried us. In the games that we lost, she was the only one who was being consistent."

Game 3 was a role reversal of Games 1 and 2, when the Aces shot above 50% and held the Liberty below that mark, including to 35.2% shooting in Game 2. New York shot 52.4% on Sunday, while Las Vegas was limited to 33.3%. The Liberty won the battle in the paint (34-30) and were able to get out into transition much better (boasting 12 fast-break points to Las Vegas' 2).

"They played harder, for one," Hammon said. "I felt like we were on our heels from the jump."

"Tonight was fun because we were doing our job and we were playing hard, and that's how we play," Jones said.

After slow second-half starts in the first two games of the series, the Liberty, who held a 3-point halftime lead, came out of the locker room particularly strong, holding the Aces to four field goal makes (10 points in all) and blocking five of their shots in the third quarter.

"It really just came down to effort and knowing that your teammates got your back if you need it with our congestion," Brondello said of her team's defense.

Although Las Vegas pulled within six points midway through the fourth, New York closed on a 15-6 run before Hammon emptied her bench.

Breanna Stewart, the2023 MVP, added 20 points and 12 rebounds for the Liberty, who collectively made 13 of their 30 3-point attempts. Their guards were more successful in Game 3 than they had been earlier in the series, with Courtney Vandersloot scoring 12 points and Sabrina Ionescu finishing with three 3s and 11 assists, two fewer than the entire Las Vegas team.

Kelsey Plum led the Aces with 29 points, keeping them in it for much of the game.

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