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Aces go wire-to-wire in win over Liberty

New York Liberty v Las Vegas Aces Photo by David Becker/NBAE via Getty Images

You always want to avoid giving up a big run. If you’re hanging tough against a great opponent, you want to stay close for as long as you can until you can make a run of your own late. The margin for error is almost miniscule, and you’ve got to hit all of your marks. If you don’t, you’re in for a long night.

The hype was here for this one and 9,587 fans showed up at Mandalay Resort’s arena on The Strip. Both the New York Liberty and Las Vegas Aces came into this contest riding nice winning streaks. The Liberty pulled out a tough road win against the Connecticut Sun two nights prior and showed a level of togetherness and toughness that will serve them well. The Aces are a step up in competition and they used a blistering third quarter to run away with this one, 98-81. In fact, Vegas went wire-to-wire.

If you wanted a sequence that defined this game, you can probably go to late in the third quarter. The Aces, the second worst offensive rebounding team in the WNBA this season, got three straight o-boards in a single possession. And when you give an amazing offense like this opportunity after opportunity...

That told the tale as the Aces outworked and out hustled the Liberty throughout the evening. Prior to the game, I read a great piece by Richard Cohen in Her Hoop Stats that pointed out just how dynamic this Vegas team is on defense:

“Retaining their entire core from last year and adding only two exceptional team players in Candace Parker and Alysha Clark means that they have so much in-built offensive chemistry that they’ve been able to focus more on the defensive side of the ball. Using offensive/defensive rating, their offense has gone from No. 3 all-time last year to No. 1, but their defense has jumped from No. 278 to No. 59 in league history (rankings are skewed by the way the game has evolved in the last 27 years). On a less universal level, last year they were middle-of-the-pack in the league; this year they trail only the Mystics on the defensive side of the ball.”

Coming in to the game, the Liberty led the W in threes made and percentage. They shot 40 percent from three, but only took 20 shots from downtown on the night. They took 20 vs. the Sun, but only turned it over nine times in a grind it out win. Tonight, they coughed it up 17 times and Vegas made them pay with 21 points off of turnovers. As Jonquel Jones noted in post, the team made uncharacteristic errors and were rushing a bit. Against a team like this, that’s a recipe for danger.

Prime access

Indiana Fever v Las Vegas Aces Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

To borrow from the great Juanita Anderson, “The game is best when the game is free.” When the game can be easily found on television, it makes for fun community viewing and introduces new people to the product. Leading up to this game, A’ja Wilson and Breanna Stewart were on ESPN’s Sportscenter discussing it and their respective All Star captaincies. However, when it was game time, if you weren’t in the New York or Las Vegas market, the game could only be found on Amazon Prime. Now, it’s certainly good that Amazon sports is involved with the WNBA and the more money the league gets in television deals, the more money that will rightfully get to the players. However, it felt like it could have been (even) bigger.

Candace Parker was asked about the excitement level fans had for this matchup and how important it is for the league that people are really looking forward to matchups:

“I’ve had the pleasure to be a part of a really good rivalry in Minnesota and the LA Sparks, and I think the excitement surrounding that I think elevated the WNBA. And I think anytime you have a rivalry and people paying attention... I mean, we had Stewie and A’ja on SportsCenter in the morning tuning in. And I think anytime you’re able to bring attention... I wish this game was nationally televised. I wish that that would have happened. I think that that would have brought more excitement to it. Everybody was excited and had to tune in to Prime, which is great, but I think in general just being able to really celebrate and lift these matchups. I think that’s what will really increase the viewership and the excitement behind the WNBA.”

Becky Hammon co-signed that statement and added:

“What she’s saying is we should’ve been on in every sports bar in America.”

There has been decades worth of discussion of television coverage and media rights in the W, and with the league trying to grow, it’s something that will continue to be a topic of discussion. As more recognizable college basketball stars enter the league, it’s essential that fans can follow their journeys in ways that are accessible and affordable. It was something Erica Ayala of Black Rosie Media and I discussed on an episode of the Gotta Get Up podcast in late May.

On another access front, Sandy Brondello was asked if the team has been able to utilize the new JSX flights that the league approved. The Liberty could not as those flights aren’t available in Connecticut and since there wasn’t a direct flight from there to Vegas, had to connect flights in Atlanta and then get to Vegas.

Lessons to learn

New York Liberty v Las Vegas Aces Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

In a blowout loss like this, there are things to take away from it.

“It was not a good day, but credit to Vegas. They were really on point tonight and exploited us in many areas. So for us, we’ve got to take a little bit more pride in the defensive end, and be better than what we were tonight. But it’ll be a great learning experience. So the video doesn’t lie, does it?”

Sandy was asked about what lessons she could take away form this game, and she said the team got frustrated and didn’t have enough fight. In the past, we’ve seen the Liberty dig down and make big pushes to get back into games and win.

On the on-court side, you saw what the Liberty were able to accomplish when things were going well

When they’re going well, the ball is zipping all over the court and they hunt those quality shots. Brondello noted that they started to take much quicker shots and that played into the hands of Vegas. The Liberty are the best when they move the ball from side to side, live in the paint, and selectively push in transition instead of hurrying. They’ll see Vegas at least three more times (and if they see them past that, the stakes will be a lot higher), so they’ve got opportunities to build off of this. As Jocelyn Willoughby said in postgame:

“And I’ll just say it’s about looking in the mirror, seeing how we can each individually be better. And I think a big thing that showed tonight is just taking more pride in our defense, being a little bit more physical, more aggressive, and being disruptive. And so that’s something I think, that we have to carry on in and make more of an emphasis on in future games.”

They’ll be back.

Next up

Minnesota Lynx v Seattle Storm Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

The Liberty get a few days off before they wrap up the three-game road trip on Sunday evening in Seattle. Tip off set for 6:00 p.m. ET.