‘A wake-up call of how good we can be’ – Liberty trounce Aces by 38


NEW YORK — In a meeting of the WNBA’s two so-called superteams, the new-look, resurgent New York Liberty announced their arrival Sunday with a statement 99-61 win over the defending champion Las Vegas Aces — the 38-point drubbing representing the largest loss by a team holding the WNBA’s best record in league history.

It was also the Aces’ largest defeat since the franchise moved to Las Vegas in 2018.

Since February, it has been widely expected that New York and Las Vegas would duke it out for the 2023 WNBA title. The first-place Aces have had the upper hand all summer, losing just twice through 26 games and handily defeating the Liberty by 17 in the teams’ first meeting in June. A competitive rivalry between the two championship-minded squads had yet to materialize.

But on Sunday in Brooklyn, the Liberty — a team that might have taken some time to come together — said not so fast, cementing their status as a championship threat.

“We just proved to ourselves what we’re able to do,” guard Sabrina Ionescu said. “We’ve set the level of how we need to play every single game in order to be at our best … we’re not sitting here jumping for joy that we beat them. It’s just a wake-up call of how good we can actually be, and that’s the standard of New York basketball. Now we have to continue to get better throughout the next month.”

Sunday also featured the best attendance — a 11,418 sellout — for a Liberty game since the organization first started playing at Barclays Center in 2021.

Entering the game, the Aces’ largest deficit of the season was 23 points; they trailed by as many as 42 against the Liberty on Sunday. And despite its history of allowing opponents to go on runs and climb back, New York stayed locked in on both ends to put the game out of reach by the end of the third quarter, ultimately outscoring Las Vegas 50-17 in the second half.

The consensus around the Liberty — now second in the standings at 22-6 — was that it was their most fully focused effort of the season.

“This is the best team in the WNBA right now and they were coming onto our home floor — they kicked our butts the last time we saw them — so there’s an extra level of focus that it takes,” guard Courtney Vandersloot said. “And this isn’t a team that you can just come in and show up and roll the ball out and play. You really have to game plan and execute, and I think that we did a good job of that tonight.”

The Aces had played every bit like the championship favorite up until Sunday, when they scored their fewest points in a game this summer and had their worst shooting outing of the season (32%).

“That’s a good old-fashioned ass-whooping,” Las Vegas coach Becky Hammon said. “But I don’t mind getting our ass whooped every now and then. It’s a good reminder that you’re still human and you’ve got to go out and prove it every moment. Lord knows we’re going to see them plenty this year.”

Ionescu — who was a minus-25 in the teams’ first matchup — carried the Liberty early with 23 first-half points before finishing with 31 (including 6-for-10 shooting from beyond the arc). Sunday was also her ninth career game with 30 points and 5 3s, according to ESPN Stats & Information research, the third most in WNBA history and most by a player age 25 or younger.

Forward Breanna Stewart led the way in the second half with 18 points, but most impressive was the Liberty’s defensive effort, especially in the final 20 minutes when they held the Aces — on pace to achieve the best offensive rating in league history — to single-digit points in the third and fourth quarters.

Defense has been a work in progress for New York, but Liberty coach Sandy Brondello called Sunday “one of our best defensive games all season long … they couldn’t have executed it any better than what we had out there.”

“I think tonight was a great example of what we can do when we want to do it … and we lock in on what our matchups are and what the defensive schemes are,” added Jonquel Jones.

Las Vegas was also doubled up on the glass 48-24 behind a combined 30 boards from Jones, Betnijah Laney and Kayla Thornton. Laney and Thornton chipped in five of the Liberty’s 17 3s, part of the well-rounded effort Brondello said makes her team much tougher to beat.

Two-time MVP A’ja Wilson took an elbow to the face from Jones at the end of the first quarter and briefly left the game; she was checked for a concussion and returned to the court, playing 25 minutes in all.

Primarily facing a tough pairing of Jones and Stewart, Wilson was limited to single digits (9 points on 2-for-14 shooting) for just the second time this season. Guard Jackie Young (16 points) paced Las Vegas in scoring.

“We’ll see how I feel in the morning but right now I’m good,” Wilson said. “I’m going to hold myself accountable, for me to be 2-of-14 … God, please don’t ever let me shoot like that again. … At the end of the day, I’m going to always shoot the basketball, because my teammates need that from me. I didn’t have it [today]. That’s not going to shatter my confidence.”

The teams will meet again in a little over a week for the Commissioner’s Cup Championship Game in Las Vegas, and then twice more in August — a series that, as Sunday showed, could preview a thrilling WNBA Finals.

“If we were plumbers, there would be a lot of people fired for not doing their job,” Hammon said. “Luckily, we’re basketball players and we get to play again in a couple of days and hopefully fix it.”


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