The first taste of what so many have anticipated since the offseason came in the form of the Commissioner’s Cup Championship Game. It resulted in a second straight lopsided final score as the outcome.
New York thrashed Las Vegas, 82-63, Tuesday, Aug. 15 from the Michelob Ultra Arena to claim the Commissioner’s Cup trophy. Liberty center Jonquel Jones was named the game’s MVP after recording 16 points and 15 rebounds.
The Aces are now 1-1 in Commissioner’s Cup title games.
“We missed a lot,” head coach Becky Hammon said. “But it did feel congested [...] When you have somebody come in off-the-bench and make more threes than your whole team, that’s a problem.”
Through three meetings this season, New York has taken the two most recent contests after dropping the first to Las Vegas. Prior to this outcome, the Liberty were responsible for the latest official loss for the Aces, which sparked a two-game win streak coming into Tuesday.
Though not official, this loss marks the first home loss for Las Vegas in the last 20 outings.
“Every time we step on the court, I feel like it counts,” guard Chelsea Gray said. “This one hurts, just because of the way that it happened – on our home floor of course.”
These two teams will meet again Thursday, Aug. 17 from The House with tip-off scheduled for 7 p.m.
“It’s like a playoff type of vibe right now,” Gray said. “Another one is coming at you and it’s the same opponent where the little things are going to change. They’re going to change some stuff so we’re going to change as well.”
New York hit back-to-back three-pointers just over two minutes into the second quarter to take its largest lead at the time at 11 points. Despite being down 11, Las Vegas battled back to close the first half on a 13-2 run to take a two-point lead into the halftime break. At that point, it was the team’s first lead since 4-3 in the early parts of the game.
During that run, the Aces held the Liberty scoreless for nearly four minutes.
“We know we’re better when we play out of our defense,” Hammon said. “Bottom line is our defense has had some slippage in probably the last 10 games, New York’s defense has gotten better and I think before that was a separation factor.”
Las Vegas went up by as many as nine points in the early going of the third quarter. Not long after, New York stormed back to tie the game at 41 apiece.
As they had earlier in the game, the Liberty cashed in on back-to-back threes just before the third quarter buzzer. Both deep treys came from reserve forward Kayla Thornton as part of a lopsided 28-8 bench production mark for the Liberty.
Guard Marine Johannes led all scorers with 17 points and five made threes.
Things fully began to unravel in the fourth quarter when New York guard Sabrina Ionescu drilled back-to-back threes to stretch the lead to 14 points, the largest of the game at that point. Eventually, the lead would balloon to 20.
As a team, the Liberty shot 15-of-35 from three-point range while holding the Aces to 5-of-26 from deep on the other end. To compound matters, New York’s Jocelyn Willoughby nailed one late in regulation with less than a second left, much to the dismay of the Las Vegas sideline.
“I have to go back and watch the film,” Gray said. “They were clogging the paint a little bit. I think in the first half we got good looks.”
Guard Jackie Young led the Aces in scoring with 16 points on 7-of-19 from the field. She was followed in scoring by 15 points apiece from Gray and fellow guard Kelsey Plum.
Hammon opted to insert her bench into the game with just over two minutes left in the fourth quarter. At that time, forward A'ja Wilson left the floor with nine points on 2-of-10 from the floor which included being held scoreless in the second half.
In her last outing against the Liberty, she was limited to just nine points again.
“When you’re playing against a halfcourt defense everytime down the floor and they’re not guarding certain people and we’re not figuring out ways to make them pay, it puts a lot of pressure on everybody else to be perfect,” Hammon said. “You almost have to play [perfectly].”