LAS VEGAS (AP) — 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 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. This season’s 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.
“I’m just grateful to be in this opportunity to play back in the Finals,” Plum said. “You think you’re going to get here every year as a player, and that’s not the case, so I understand the gravity of this moment and I understand it takes a full team effort for 40 minutes.”
No team this postseason has solved the Aces, who are 6-0. The Liberty proved they could beat Las Vegas in the regular season, but for a franchise still chasing its first championship, New York will have to come back with a considerably different response.
“I think in the second half, the ball stopped and got stuck a little bit,” Stewart said. “That made it easier for them to clog the paint on (Jones) and myself. We need to continue to keep moving and trust what got us here.”
Seven-time Super Bowl champion quarterback and newly approved Aces minority owner Tom Brady sat courtside next to Las Vegas majority owner Mark Davis.
“I looked at (Brady) and said, ‘It’s about effing time you showed up,’” Plum said, jokingly. “Just super excited for his investment in our franchise and understanding what that means in the growth of not just us but the league and putting eyeballs on it. I joke around, but it’s been awesome to have him and I know he cares.”
Brady was part of a celebrity turnout that also included Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James, actor and Las Vegas resident Mark Walhberg and Hall of Famer Sheryl Swoopes.
Recording artist Ashanti performed at halftime.
AP WNBA: https://apnews.com/hub/wnba-basketball