New York City basketball is all about toughness. When you play with heart and grit, the fans love and respect what you do. The New York Liberty exemplify that city grit. On Tuesday night, they opened up a three game road trip against the Connecticut Sun. It looked like the Liberty were going to run away with it, but the Sun showed their own toughness that they’ve built over years of intense playoff battles. However, NY survived Connecticut’s late push and came away with a fantastic 89-81 victory. The winning streak is up to four.
The opponent tonight? Oh, just the most dominant team in the WNBA today. The Las Vegas Aces won the championship last season and are back and better than ever. They improved their record to 13-1 after beating the Indiana Fever on Monday night. Their winning streak is at six.
Where to follow the game
YES Network has us covered here locally, while Amazon Prime has everybody else. Late night affair so the party’s getting started after 10:00 p.m. ET.
No Stefanie Dolson or Han Xu.
Riquana Williams is out due to a back injury.
It’s time. The Aces and Liberty are top two in record, net rating, offensive rating, three point percentage, and have dominated conversation since the winter. Both clubs are the favorites to make it to the Finals and have raised the standards of the league via their off-court investments. It’s a welcome development and the fans in the arena and watching at home are in for a treat.
The Liberty have won the rebounding battle in each of the past four games, and Jonquel Jones’ continued improvement is a big reason why. JJ put on a show in her homecoming to Connecticut with 14 points, 11 rebounds, and four blocks in a season high 31 minutes. In postgame, Sandy Brondello said that she’s been overthinking a bit, and she should just play. They’re going to need another big game tonight against the Aces, and Vegas’ lack of success on the offensive boards could prove helpful for New York tonight.
For all the talk of the Liberty’s starting five, Kayla Thornton coming off the bench might be the X-factor that ties it all together. KT subbed in late on Tuesday night and her defense helped shut the Sun out over the final 3:39. Thornton also hit the game sealing jumper, which was her first pull up jumper and first out of the pick and roll:
This shot that KT made with 49 seconds left blew my mind because I had no idea she was capable of coming off PNR and making a mid-range shot.— Jackie Powell (she/her) (@ClassicJpow) June 28, 2023
I think it must have also blew the Sun's mind because they weren't at all ready for it. Look at how much space they give her here. pic.twitter.com/r536AO2oeh
As our guy Lucas Kaplan noted in a recent story, KT is a lot better shooter than people realize. Having one more workable option on offense makes the Liberty even more dangerous to gameplan against.
However, the Liberty are going to need KT’s defense to slow down Chelsea Gray. Gray has built off her world destroying 2022 playoffs and Finals MVP run with an incredible 2023. Gray is averaging a touch over 14 points a game on .514/.490/.962 shooting splits. The question of who guards who will be a fascinating one. Betnijah Laney has taken the assignment of guarding the opponent’s best perimeter player this year, and has excelled at it. The question for the Liberty is who guards who? You could put Laney on Gray, but who would get the Jackie Young assignment?
Speaking of Young, she’s been outstanding for Vegas this season. She’s sixth in the league in scoring at 19.9 points a night on .579/.484/.831 splits. Young earned a well deserved All Star nomination and like Gray, is an assassin in the midrange. For the Liberty, Laney and Courtney Vandersloot’s assignments will tell the tale of this one. They’re both two of the team’s best, smartest defenders and they’re going to need every bit of excellence possible to win this one.
Sabrina Ionescu is looking to bounce back from a poor game on Tuesday. Sab only went 2-10 from the field in 26 minutes and had some struggles on defense. She’s always been able to bounce back from bad games, and the team will need a big night out of her if they want to keep the winning streak alive. Depending on how the Aces defend the other Liberty players, she might get her fair share of open looks from deep. Ionescu will need to cash in on every one of those attempts and do enough on defense if she gets the assignment of guarding Kelsey Plum. KP struggled from three point range early in the season, but has more than corrected that problem. In her last five games, Plum is shooting 48.4 percent from three point range and averaging 20.8 points a night. Plum can light it up from deep, finish in traffic at the rim, and create shots for others. Feel like we’ve said it a bunch, but the star power in this one is off the hook.
Player to watch: A’ja Wilson
The Age of A’ja is upon us. Wilson has put together another massive season and is second in the league in blocks, sixth in rebounding and seventh in scoring. Wilson does it all for the Aces and will be essential to Vegas’ chances of building a dynasty. She hasn’t taken many three pointers, which turns out to be a good thing as she’s only made 15.4 percent of them. The best players take their strengths and turn it up several notches, and Wilson is impossible to handle when she gets it in the low post. Wilson is an all time great already and is adding more to her legend day by day.
Not to be outdone, Breanna Stewart is playing at an all time level as well. Stewie is second in the W in scoring, second in rebounds, fourth in blocked shots, ninth in steals, and 14th in assists. Stewart made even more history on Tuesday night as she became the fastest player in W history to score 4,000 career points. You can always count on Stewart to fill up the stat sheet and play lockdown defense against whoever she’s guarding. Considering all the options Vegas can turn to, a challenge like this will be up Stewart’s alley.
Stewart and Wilson appeared on Sportscenter last night to promo tonight’s game
A’ja Wilson and Breanna Stewart joined Nicole Briscoe on @SportsCenter to preview Thursday night’s Liberty/Aces matchup. Here, the All-Star captains talked draft strategy for the starter selection show coming up July 8, a week before the #WNBA All-Star game on July 15. pic.twitter.com/oneSJOlW30— Myles (@MylesEhrlich) June 29, 2023
Wilson and Stewart are the respective captains of this year’s All Star teams, and it’s a well deserved accomplishment for the two best players in the game. Buckle up, y’all. We’re in for a fun one.
From the Vault
Han Xu is currently having a ton of success at the Asia Cup, so it’s only right we throw it back to her best game as a pro in the W