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How A’ja Wilson won WNBA Finals battle vs. Breanna Stewart

Las Vegas’ A’ja Wilson Aces shoots a 3-pointer over New York’s Breanna Stewart during Game 2 of the 2023 WNBA Finals. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Las Vegas Aces star A’ja Wilson won the matchup of MVPs in the 2023 WNBA Finals over her New York Liberty counterpart Breanna Stewart.

Wilson won the Finals MVP award in the process. Her trophy haul should provide ample consolation for her loss to Stewart in the voting for the regular-season MVP award.

Of course, some might say Wilson deserved the 2023 WNBA MVP award over Stewart in the first place – including Las Vegas Aces head coach Becky Hammon, who has been vocal from the start about the snub. But Wilson, who did win the 2022 MVP award, set herself apart throughout the championship series, leading the Aces to a 3-1 win over the Liberty.

In the 2023 playoffs, Wilson averaged 23.8 points and 11.8 rebounds per game, beating out her New York Liberty counterpart. Stewart averaged 18.4 points and 10.2 rebounds, and through 10 postseason games shot just 35.8% from the field.

Stewart made 42.1% of her shots in Game 1 against the Aces, but in Game 2 was held to just 35.3% shooting. In the final game of the series, she shot 17.6% from the field and scored just 10 points. She went 67-187 in the playoffs, which is not what the Liberty needed from their star player.

Stewart also struggled with 3-point shooting, making just 19.6% of her shots from behind the arc in the postseason compared to 35.5% in the regular season. She sunk just nine 3-pointers out of 46 attempts in the playoffs.

And on Wednesday, New York put the ball in her hands for the game-winning shot — but she was denied by Alysha Clark. Still, if you ask head coach Sandy Brondello, the decision to put the ball in Stewart’s hands is one she’d made again.

“I put the ball in the hands of the MVP because we trust her. And it just didn’t work out today,” Brondello said. “It ended up with Breanna at the end, so it was just her trying to make a play from there. So, I [would] still do it again. That’s the right call.”

Stewart’s 10 points in the series-ending loss were the fewest she had scored in a game in the 2023 postseason.

“I think they would just throw whatever defense they had at us and make sure it was ugly,” Stewart said. “Sometimes we lost our flow and our ball movement, but [we were] confident behind all the shots that we got, and they just didn’t go in.”

Wilson, meanwhile, nearly doubled Stewart’s shooting percentages in the playoffs, going 82-for-148 from the floor. She shot 55.4% through nine playoff games.

With those numbers, Wilson finishes the playoffs having put together her best postseason to date. Last year, she averaged 20.3 points, 10.4 rebounds and 55.2% shooting in the playoffs en route to the Aces’ first title – all career bests. She improved in all three categories this season.

Comparatively, this is one of the worst postseasons of Stewart’s career. She only averaged below 40% shooting in the playoffs one other time – in 2017, when the Seattle Storm were eliminated after one game. The only other time she’s been below 50% came in 2018, when Seattle played eight games en route to winning the title.

Her 19.6% 3-point shooting is particularly glaring, as she had never averaged below 40% in the playoffs, and averaged 50% or better in four out of the five previous postseasons in which she has played.

The Late Sub Podcast: Can the USWNT Medal?

The USWNT takes a silly face photo during their team Olympic photo shoot
The USWNT will begin their 2024 Olympic medal hunt on Thursday. (Brad Smith/ISI/Getty Images).

This week, JWS podcast host Claire Watkins discusses WNBA All-Star Weekend, which felt both like a celebration of the league's explosive growth over the past year and a way to set Team USA up for a particularly competitive Summer Olympics.

Later, Watkins previews the field for the upcoming Olympic soccer tournament, nominating her personal "Group of Death" and discussing whether or not the new-era USWNT could still reach medal contention despite their current rebuild under new head coach Emma Hayes.

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Team USA, Germany Play Pre-Olympic Exhibition Game in London

Team USA's 5x5 Basketball Team stands for the National Anthem before Saturday's WNBA All-Star Game
Team USA looks to rebound from Saturday's WNBA All-Star Game loss in an exhibition against Germany today. (Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images)

USA Basketball's 5x5 team will tip off in an exhibition against Germany in London this afternoon, getting in one last tune-up before the Summer Olympics begin.

The US is hunting an eighth-straight gold medal this year, with group stage play starting on July 29th.

Team USA's Kahleah Copper, Alyssa Thomas, Kelsey Plum, and Sabrina Ionescu gear up to face Germany in pre-Olympic exhibition.
Team USA's Kahleah Copper, Alyssa Thomas, Kelsey Plum, and Sabrina Ionescu gear up to take on Germany in London. (Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images)

US to use All-Star loss as fuel

Coming off the weekend's All-Star Game loss, the Olympians are ready to repeat history: They earned their Tokyo gold medal immediately after losing the first Team USA vs. Team WNBA All-Star Game back in 2021.

Breanna Stewart, who led Team USA with a 31-point, 10-rebound double-double on Saturday, said that the defeat "is going to help us tremendously. We don’t get that many game opportunities, [and now] we can go back and watch the film and focus on how we can continue to be better."

Today’s tilt against Germany will see the US work to lock in their defense, particularly in the paint. They'll also lean into their positional versatility before heading to Paris.

WNBA pro Satou Sabally leads Team Germany in today's pre-Olympic exhibition game against Team USA.
WNBA pro Satou Sabally helped Germany to their first-ever Olympic berth. (Axel Heimken/picture alliance via Getty Images)

Olympic debutants Germany enter first US clash

The exhibition marks the first-ever US-Germany linkup. The German team will make their Olympic debut in Paris after decades of failing to qualify for major international competitions. Their sixth-place 2023 EuroBasket finish sent them into February’s FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament, where they punched their ticket to the 2024 Games.

Leading Germany's run was two-time WNBA All-Star Satou Sabally, who put up career-high averages in points, rebounds, assists, and steals with Dallas last season. Her 20-point, 11-rebound double-double was the difference-maker in Germany's must-win 73-71 Olympic qualifying victory over Brazil.

Other German players to watch include 2022 NY Liberty draft-pick — and Sabally's sister — Nyara Sabally, along with Liberty sharpshooter Leonie Fiebich.

Where to watch the Team USA vs. Germany game

Today’s exhibition tips off at 3 PM ET with live coverage on FS1.

1v1 With Kelley O’Hara: USWNT Star Jaedyn Shaw Is Expecting “Dubs All Around”

retired uswnt star kelley o'hara interviewing san diego wave and uswnt forward jaedyn shaw
'1v1' is back with Jaedyn Shaw joining Kelley O'Hara for a conversation about the upcoming Paris Olympics. (Just Women's Sports)

In the latest episode of Just Women's Sports' 1v1 With Kelley O'Hara, San Diego Wave and USWNT star Jaedyn Shaw joins two-time World Cup champion and Olympic gold medalist Kelley O'Hara for a one-on-one conversation about the upcoming Paris Olympics.

We hear from the 19-year-old Wave FC phenom about her first impressions of new USWNT coach Emma Hayes, her experience with international competition at this point in her young career, and how she's preparing to take on the 2024 Summer Games.

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The 91st: Complete USWNT & Olympic Soccer Preview Featuring Jess McDonald

Logo for JWS USWNT Olympic show The 91st
The latest season of JWS' awarding-winning Olympics show 'The 91st' premieres today. (Just Women's Sports)

We're back! Hosts Jordan Angeli, Duda Pavao, and retired USWNT forward Jess McDonald deliver a full preview of this year's Olympic soccer tournament in Paris.

Watch for full analysis of USWNT manager Emma Hayes's coaching style, this team's shifting identity in this new USWNT era, and a projected starting XI for the team's group stage opener against Zambia. The 91st hosts also break down all three Olympic groups — including top players and teams to track throughout the tournament — plus give their predictions for the medal rounds and individual awards.

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