The New York Liberty’s first WNBA Finals game in 21 years looked just like that on Sunday evening as they were run out of T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas by the Aces 99-82 to fall into an early best-of-five championship series hole.
Outscored 53-33 in the second half, the Liberty were overwhelmed by the Las Vegas defense, failing to live up to the expectations created of a gargantuan series that features two teams that have combined to post the highest winning percentage between WNBA Finals combatants in league history.
New York, which set a WNBA record by averaging 11 three-pointers per game, made nine but eight of them came in the first half. They converted at a paltry 31% clip (9-of-29) while making just one shot from deep in the second half while also committing 11 turnovers on the day.
Aces guard Jackie Young and Kelsey Plum dropped playoff-career-highs of 26 points in Game 1, supported by 19 points with eight rebounds from A’Ja Wilson. Chelsea Gray tortured the Liberty, too, with 20 points and nine assists to facilitate a vaunted Vegas offense.
Marine Johannès managed to be the difference for the Liberty off the bench in the first half. While New York’s starters shot 27% from the field in the opening stanza, Johannes dropped 14 points on 5-of-6 shooting from the field, which included going 4-of-5 from beyond the arc to help the visitors take a 49-46 halftime lead.
In the first five games of the WNBA playoffs, she had recorded just five points on 2-of-13 shooting (1-of-10 from three-point range).
But she wouldn’t record a single point for the rest of the game.
Wilson and the Aces took over in the second half with the two-time defending defensive player of the year controlling both ends of the floor. While Young recorded 11 points behind a pair of three-pointers in the third quarter, Wilson added nine with a pair of blocks to outscore New York 26-16 in the frame.
Meanwhile, the Liberty offense looked disjointed with guard Courtney Vandersloot — whose struggles prompted the introduction of Johannès on Sunday — going 0-for-3 on her way to a 4-for-11 showing from the field in Game 1. Breanna Stewart led the Liberty with 21 points on 8-of-19 shooting and Jonquel Jones added 16 but Sabrina Ionescu could only muster seven points on 2-of-7 shooting.
Just over two minutes into the fourth quarter, the Aces’ lead swelled to 13 after Young blew past Jonquel Jones on a backdoor cut to cap off a demoralizing 9-0 run to take a 78-65 lead. After Gray’s stepback jumper and a lazy turnover on the ensuing inbound by Sabrina Ionescu, Las Vegas continued its assault to grow its lead to 17 to end the Liberty’s chances earlier than expected on Sunday.
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