UNCASVILLE, Connecticut – It will be the duel for the WNBA Finals that has been expected since February: The so-called “superteam” New York Liberty and the defending champion Las Vegas Aces will fight for the 2023 WNBA Championship, with the former securing their place in Sunday’s final with an 87-84 victory over the Connecticut Sun in Game 4 of their semifinal series.
“I think it’s good. That’s the narrative everyone wanted at the beginning,” Liberty coach Sandy Brondello said. “I didn’t particularly like the superteam thing… [but] It’s going to be a great series and it’s an advertisement for the WNBA, right? It’s New York, we haven’t done that for so long, but we’re playing against last year’s champions. I think it will be a really competitive series and I hope more and more people get into the game and we can continue to grow it.”
Game 1 of the Finals, a best-of-five series in which No. 1 seed Las Vegas has home-field advantage, will air Oct. 8 at 3 p.m. ET on ABC.
But for the Liberty, Sunday was less about what’s to come and more about celebrating what they’ve accomplished. After five straight losses (2018-22), they are just three wins away from securing the organization’s first WNBA title. Only the Minnesota Lynx had more consecutive losses in 2011 (2005-10) before reaching the Finals.
New York – the only original WNBA franchise not to win a championship – made its title ambitions clear after making a major overhaul of its roster in the offseason. The Liberty traded for 2021 MVP Jonquel Jones in January before signing two-time MVP Breanna Stewart and one of the best point guards in league history, Courtney Vandersloot, in free agency. These players were brought in to surround 2020 No. 1 overall pick Sabrina Ionescu and 2021 All-Star Betnijah Laney.
The Liberty finished second to Las Vegas in the regular season and set a franchise record .800 winning percentage before defeating Washington in the first round and advancing to their first semifinal series since 2015.
“The fact that the Liberty haven’t reached a final since 2002 is great, and to have that and know that we have the whole city behind us is really, really special,” Stewart said.
The MVPs rallied hugely for the Liberty on Sunday as the Sun rallied from an eight-point deficit heading into the fourth quarter to take a late lead, with Jones and Stewart combining for 20 of the Liberty’s 21 fourth-quarter points.
Jones scored 20 of her 25 points and collected 8 of her 15 rebounds after halftime and made several game-winning plays down the stretch. In the final minute, Jones grabbed two crucial rebounds and stole the ball from a Sun inbounds play with the Liberty ahead by three points, which led to them sinking two free throws on the other end. In the last minute she finally finished the game 5-6 from the line.
Jones – returning to the Finals for the third time in five years, the last two with the Sun – recorded her sixth double-double in the playoffs, the most in a single postseason in league history.
She came full circle on Sunday as she helped secure the Liberty’s ticket to the Finals, against her former team and on her former home turf no less. She hopes the result this time will be different to when the Sun lost to the Aces in the final last year.
“I think it’s a blessing and the beauty of the sport to be with this team, to get to a final and have the opportunity again,” Jones said.
After struggling to find her shot early in the playoffs, Stewart, who was named the 2023 WNBA MVP on Tuesday, finished with 27 points and made three of five three-point attempts, including the three-pointer that gave the Liberty the lead 2:08 minutes before the end of the game he is finally back. The two-time Finals MVP, both times with the Seattle Storm, is back in the championship series for the first time since 2020.
But it wasn’t just the additions that made the difference for New York: Laney, who came to Brooklyn in 2021 but missed most of last season due to injury, showed why she remains Liberty’s X-factor. She recorded her third straight game with more than 20 points in the series, all of which the Liberty won, and also had seven rebounds and five assists.
“We’re not happy with everything, but I’m happy, especially with where we started,” Laney said. “We were eliminated in the first round every time and now we are here with everyone and in the final.”
After exceeding expectations with a new coaching staff, new players and the season-ending injury to All-Star Brionna Jones in June, the Sun’s season once again ends narrowly with a franchise-first WNBA title; Connecticut has played in five consecutive semifinals and has the league’s best active streak with seven consecutive playoff appearances.
As she has all season, Alyssa Thomas led the way for the Sun. Although she suffered an undisclosed injury in the fourth quarter and had to briefly go to the locker room, she eventually regained the field and completed her seventh triple-double of the season and her third in playoff contention (17 points, 15 rebounds, 11 assists ). .
“I had a season unlike anything I’ve ever experienced in this league, and I probably won’t experience it again unless I make it,” said Thomas, who finished second in MVP voting, though she had garnered the most first place votes when asked to reflect on her season. “So I can be very proud. Nobody can take away the fact that I will always be in the record books.”