Aces rally past Liberty in Game 4 thriller, secure second straight WNBA title

Before the Las Vegas Aces’ first game at the Barclays Center on Sunday against the New York Liberty, Becky Hammon openly acknowledged what everyone already knew or suspected: “This team over here,” Hammon declared, referring to the heavily remade New York Liberty, “was put together to take you out.”

This statement referred to the frenzy of last offseason’s free agency that ushered the WNBA into its first Super Team era. The Aces, favorites to repeat, were not amused by the notion that a roster could be assembled overnight to challenge them.

“A lot of people picked Liberty in five (games),” stated Aces star A’ja Wilson. “We know, we see it. That (stuff) fueled us.”

And on Wednesday night, they demonstrated their superiority – even without some key players.

With 24 points and 16 rebounds from Wilson, a significantly shorthanded Las Vegas team rebounded from a 12-point deficit to beat New York 70-69 in Game 4 of the WNBA Finals, claiming the series 3-1. This marks the Aces’ second consecutive championship under Hammon, and they are the WNBA’s first back-to-back champions since the Los Angeles Sparks won titles in 2001 and 2002.

“This one’s sweeter,” said Hammon. “(Repeating) is hard to do. We went from darling to villain real quick.”

A'ja Wilson celebrates with the MVP trophy after the Aces won the WNBA championship.

However, the title did not come without some drama.

After trading runs throughout the first three and a half quarters, the game was tied at 60-all with 5:26 remaining. The teams then exchanged baskets until, with 8.8 seconds left and trailing by one, 70-69, New York called a timeout and designed a play for Breanna Stewart, the 2023 MVP.

However, Stewart was relentlessly defended by Alysha Clark of the Aces, forcing her to pass the ball. It ultimately ended up in the hands of Courtney Vandersloot in the corner, who took a hurried shot. She missed the 3-pointer, and that was the end of the game.

“I entrusted the (2023) MVP with the ball,” stated New York coach Sandy Brondello. “It just didn’t work out. I would make the same call again. It was the right decision.”

Vegas managed to frustrate Stewart throughout the night, limiting her to only 10 points on 3-of-17 shooting. Stewart acknowledged that the Liberty had moments where “we lost our flow and ball movement” and that the Aces “threw whatever defensive strategy they had at us, making it an ugly game… We knew they were going to challenge us.”

Considering the absences in the Aces’ lineup, this victory was particularly impressive. They were missing All-Star point guard Chelsea Gray and forward Kiah Stokes, who together averaged 17.5 points, 8.4 rebounds, and 7.9 assists for the Aces during the season, as they compiled a 34-6 record. The team struggled to adjust to playing without its floor general early on.

The Aces committed eight turnovers in the first quarter, which the Liberty converted into seven points. However, they settled down thereafter, finishing with just 13 turnovers. Nevertheless, the Liberty found their rhythm and closed the first half with an 8-0 run to take a 39-30 lead.

Then, Vegas, known for their strong performance in the third quarter, dominated. The Aces outscored the Liberty 23-12, maintaining their momentum in the final period with a 16-2 run over a critical stretch.

During this stretch, Alysha Clark, the league’s Sixth Woman of the Year, took a crucial charge. Despite the absence of Parker, Gray, and Stokes, who have been missing from the lineup since early July, the Aces displayed exceptional defensive prowess.

Hammon admitted afterwards, “We devised a defense, and they executed it excellently.”

Clark responded with a laugh, “Fortune favors the bold, Becky!”

Four Aces players scored in double figures, including Clark (10) and Cayla George (11), who both started in place of Gray and Stokes. Clark also secured eight rebounds, while Jackie Young contributed 16 points.

New York was led by Vandersloot, who finished with 19 points.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Las Vegas Aces defeat New York Liberty to win WNBA Finals again


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