It’s Goliath vs. Goliath in the 2023 WNBA Finals


It’s Las Vegas and New York. It’s always been Las Vegas and New York.

The WNBA’s two “superteams” will square off in a best-of-five series. Six of the ten All-WNBA members from last year are currently on the rosters of the Liberty or the Aces. New York’s Breanna Stewart (2018, 2023) and Jonquel Jones (2021) along with Las Vegas’s A’ja Wilson (2020, 2022) own five of the last six league MVP awards.

The two titans distanced themselves from the rest of the WNBA throughout the season. The Aces have homecourt advantage after going 34-6 in the regular season. New York closed the gap but ultimately finished in second place at 32-8 in the regular season.

Their dominance has extended that into the postseason. They have combined to go 10-1 thus far.

The Aces first victory over the Liberty, a 98-81 decisive home win, was aided by Candace Parker’s 15 points, six rebounds, five assists and two steals.

New York has since won three of the last four after Parker’s season-ending injury on July 7th. They have the only road win, claiming the Commissioner’s Cup Championship on August 15th with a dominant defensive performance. The Liberty held the Aces to 63 points, 29 points under their season average.

Interestingly, four of the five games between the Aces and Liberty this season have been decided by double-digits. This includes a 38-point win for New York and a 17-point win for Las Vegas.

These teams know each other very well and there will be adjustments made throughout the series. Matchups will be key, and New York has more versatility with their lineup. The Aces, however, will have four elite scorers on the floor for the majority of the game.

The team left standing at the end will have earned the championship and will go down as one of the greatest teams ever assembled.

But which team’s legacy will be remembered?

No. 1 Las Vegas vs. No. 2 New York

  • Game 1: New York at Las Vegas, October 8th – 3:00 p.m. ET (ABC)
  • Game 2: New York at Las Vegas, October 11th – 9:00 p.m. ET (ESPN)
  • Game 3: Las Vegas at New York, October 15th – 3:00 p.m. ET (ABC)
  • Game 4 (if necessary): Las Vegas at New York, October 18th – 8:00 p.m. ET (ESPN)
  • Game 5 (if necessary): New York at Las Vegas, October 20th – 9:00 p.m. ET (ESPN)

New York’s Three Keys

1. Owning the Boards

The Liberty are 3-0 against the Aces this season when they have an offensive rebounding percentage of 30% or higher.

They are 0-2 when falling below 30%.

Although Laney (eight total offensive rebounds) and Stewart (seven total offensive rebounds) have contributed, it has been primarily the size and strength of Jonquel Jones that has hurt the Aces the most on the boards.

Jones has 22 offensive rebounds in five games – the same amount as the Aces have as an entire team in those games.

To be fair, the Aces conceding rebounds is part of their philosophy. It allows them to get five players back on defense around the 2023 Defensive Player of the Year A’ja Wilson.

Their 18.9% OREB% during the regular season ranked 11th in the WNBA. They’ve done a better job in the playoffs, increasing that number to 25.3% in their five playoff games.

Jones, on the other hand, is naturally inside more. When she holds her position in the paint, she is impossible to box out. New York’s sharpshooters have feasted on Jones’s kickouts after offensive rebounds for wide open inside-out threes.

New York has an OREB% of 30% or higher in three of their six playoff games. Dominating the boards will be backbreaking for the Aces.

2. MVP vs. MVP

Breanna Stewart won one of the closest MVP races in WNBA history. She edged out Alyssa Thomas of the Connecticut Sun and A’ja Wilson of the Aces.

All three are outstanding on both ends of the floor with all three earning All-Defensive First-Team selections this season.

A fascinating sub-plot of this series is how effective each player is when going head-to-head. Playing similar positions, these two have both struggled offensively throughout the season series.

Because of their length and athleticism, neither can get to the rim off the dribble. Instead, they tend to settle for contested perimeter shots.

One issue for Las Vegas is without Parker, Wilson is the most reliable defender on Jones. This creates a domino effect and ultimately puts a smaller defender on Stewart. Stewart, in turn, becomes ultra-aggressive by attacking more often and sealing in the low post.

The balancing act of who guards Stewart and who guards Jones could be the difference in the series. If head coach Becky Hammon uses Wilson as the primary defender on Stewart, Jones is going to have to step up her game. She would need a Finals MVP performance, which she is completely capable of doing.

If Wilson does guard Stewart, look for Stewart to play more of a perimeter game by forcing Wilson to fight though off-ball screens.

3. The Deadly Two-Player Game

One action that hasn’t been solved by defenses this year has been the two-player game between Stewart and Sabrina Ionescu. Whether it is a flare screen, a down screen, or a slip, it puts a lot of pressure on the defense to make a decision.

And the Liberty are great at making every defensive decision wrong.

If the defense switches, Stewart uses her size to seal in the low post for an easy basket.

If the defense stays, Ionescu is the biggest shooting threat in the league and doesn’t need a lot of room to get it off.

And if the defense cheats, Stewart is excellent at reading it and slipping to the basket for an easy lay-up.

Pick your poison, but these two can cause a lot of sleepless nights when scouting the Liberty.

Las Vegas’s Three Keys

1. Ball Pressure

New York’s guards are electric. Certainly, Courtney Vandersloot will go down as one of the greatest point guards in league history. Ionescu lit up the WNBA this year like no player has before.

If there is one weakness, it’s been turnovers – mostly due to their lack of size. This is compounded by the fact that they play much of the game together. Vandersloot finished the regular season with the eighth most turnovers per game in the WNBA; Ionescu finished tenth.

At 5’8”, Vandersloot can get stuck when she drives too deep into the teeth of the defense. She’s a pass-first point guard, and with Wilson lurking near the rim, Vandersloot tends to force passes that aren’t there.

Ionescu has done most of her work off the ball this season, but still gets stuck when her shot is taken away and she can’t create an advantage against quick guards. Ball pressure can speed her up and create unforced turnovers off poor passes.

Jackie Young is 6’0”. Chelsea Gray is 5’11”. Alysha Clark is 5’11”. The Aces are going to have to find ways to use their length and force New York, a team that has struggled with turnovers throughout the season, into turning the ball over.

In the five games against the Aces this season, Vandersloot and Ionescu two have combined for 29 turnovers.

Las Vegas has won the turnover battle in every game against New York this season. Las Vegas is averaging 9.0 turnovers per game against New York. The Liberty are averaging 14.4.

2. The Point Gawd

Turnovers lead to fastbreaks, and there isn’t a better point guard in the league leading the break than Chelsea Gray. Third in the league in assists per game at 7.3, Gray is going to show up on every highlight film with her spectacular passing ability and vision.

The nickname “Point Gawd” (as she is known in WNBA circles) is one she’s earned and lived up to this season. New York has put their ace perimeter defender Laney on her, but Gray consistently orchestrated the Aces attack.

On August 17th, Gray led the Aces to an 88-75 win over the Liberty. She finished with 22 points on 10-22 shooting. She also had 11 assists, 11 rebounds and three steals.

If she gets going, it’s going to be a lot for the Liberty to handle. In the 2022 WNBA Finals, Gray earned Finals MVP by averaging 18.3 points per game and 6.0 assists per game.

3. The Mismatch Nightmare

Jackie Young has been impossible to stop. With Laney primarily guarding Gray, Ionescu and Vandersloot get the difficult task of slowing down Young. Against the Liberty this season, Young is averaging 17.6 points per game on 31-60 FG and 13-27 3PT.

The Liberty have tried a multitude of schemes, but none of them have been successful. Young is able to get her shot off relatively easily against the smaller guards.

On switches, she has proven to be a capable perimeter shooter off the dribble if posts sag off her. She will blow right by them if they play up on her.

She has incredible body control and uses her strength to get into defenders when she attacks. She also can also spot up and let others, like Gray and Kelsey Plum, do the work for her. Young finished the season in second in three-point percentage at 44.9%. She finished third in the WNBA in effective field goal percentage for players with at least 30 games played.

The Liberty simply don’t have enough big guards that can check both Gray and Young. Young, the 2022 Most Improved Player of the Year, will be a strong candidate for Finals MVP if the Aces prevail.

About Kenyon Wingenbach

High school girls' basketball head coach and educator at West Fargo Public Schools (North Dakota).

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