LAS VEGAS — Whether it was Chelsea Gray on her 31st birthday orchestrating the offense, Jackie Young knocking down 3-pointers, or Kelsey Plum driving to the basket, Las Vegas’ guards helped deliver an emphatic Game 1 victory Sunday in the WNBA Finals.
They combined to score 72 points to hand the New York Liberty a 99-82 defeat before a boisterous sellout crowd. Young — who made five 3-pointers — and Plum each scored 26 points, and Gray had 20 points and nine assists.
“It’s kind of like Jackie and [Plum] are doing this really hard work, and then the ball goes into Chelsea and it’s just dicing everything,” Aces coach Becky Hammon said. “It was a really nice combination. Our trio of guards were pretty ridiculous.”
Add in A’ja Wilson’s 19 points, and the Aces got all but eight points from four players, but the Liberty were always going to have the superior depth over a Las Vegas team that is using a six-player rotation.
Five New York players scored in double figures. League MVP Breanna Stewart, led the Liberty with 21 points, Jonquel Jones totaled 16 points and 10 rebounds, and Marine Johannes came off the bench to score 14.
Johannes, however, was shut out in the second half when the Aces began sending double teams her way. Las Vegas also held Sabrina Ionescu, who entered averaging 16.3 points in the playoffs, to seven points for the game.
“Their defense was as good as I’ve ever seen it,” New York coach Sandy Brondello said. “We’ve got to play with better poise and we can exploit it the next time.”
Game 2 of the best-of-five series is Wednesday in Las Vegas, and the Liberty were in a similar situation after losing Game 1 of their semifinal series to the Connecticut Sun by 15 points. New York then won the next three games to advance to the championship round.
“We can obviously learn a lot from this and we can play better,” Brondello said. “That’s what we have to remember. We haven’t lost two in a row all season long, and we’re going to know that we responded the right way. I trust these players.”
In one of the most anticipated Finals in recent memory with three WNBA MVPs, this game instead played out like the regular-season meetings between the teams in which the closest outcome was nine points.
The Aces made sure of that by turning into another one-sided game going on an 11-2 run that turned a 67-63 advantage late in the third quarter into a 78-65 lead early in the fourth. Las Vegas led by as much as 94-72 with 3:32 remaining.
Those three guards were a major reason, getting it done on both ends of the floor. They combined to score 38 points and make four steals in the second half.
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WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert joked before Game 1 of the WNBA Finals she’ll have to get new shoes now that the league has added one expansion team, with another most likely on the way soon.
Engelbert has a pair of high heels with all of the WNBA team logos on them. The shoes will become a collectors’ item in 2025 at minimum when the expansion team owned by the Golden State Warriors starts playing.
“The goal is to add a second one, or 14th team, by 2025,” Engelbert said. “Not more for before ‘25, but obviously longer term. I’ve said my goal is to get this league, you know, additional teams and additional cities that we think would be great. We have a lot of cities interested, which is why we didn’t announce the 14th team yet.”
Engelbert mentioned a few cities including Denver; Philadelphia; Charlotte, N.C.; Nashville, Tenn.; and Portland, Ore., which is considered a front-runner. Portland had a WNBA team from 2000-02, playing its games at the Rose Garden before the franchise folded. There has been a strong women’s basketball fan base in the state the past few seasons with the success of Oregon and Oregon State on the college level.
The city also has a big women’s sports presence with the NWSL’s Thorns, who won the league’s title last year and three overall, and the Sports Bra — the first sports bar dedicated to women’s sports — where Engelbert was part of a panel discussion on the WNBA earlier this year.
The WNBA had strong metrics again, with the league having its most-watched regular season in 21 years and its highest average attendance since 2018. Viewership was up 21 percent over last year across its national television partners, and the league’s average attendance of 6,615 fans was its highest since the 2018 season.