While the Las Vegas Aces and the New York Liberty have not literally come to blows, their battles throughout the year have packed a punch, as Aces guard Kelsey Plum and Liberty forward Breanna Stewart agreed before Game 2 of the WNBA Finals.
While the Liberty held the 3-2 edge over the Aces heading into the Finals, Las Vegas started the best-of-five series with a 99-82 statement win at home. The game also served as a response to New York’s previous victories over the Aces, all of which came in August.
In particular, the Liberty took over in the second halves in several of their meetings to secure emphatic victories. New York outscored Las Vegas 50-17 in the second half of a 99-61 win on Aug. 6, and then 50-29 in the second half of an 82-63 win in the Commissioner’s Cup final on Aug. 15.
In Game 1 of the Finals, though, the Aces effectively shut down Liberty guard Marine Johannès after she was lights-out in the first half. Las Vegas outscored New York by 20 points in the second half of the win.
“We’ve had some poor third quarters, and New York has really came out and punched us in the face,” Plum said. “And so I think it was kind of a team awareness, understanding that setting the tone to start the half is really important. Coming out being super focused and knowing our schemes.”
Of course, the Liberty are now the ones feeling the sting of defeat. And their ready to “punch back,” as Stewart said Tuesday.
“The playoffs are a roller coaster, a lot of positives and lows. And it’s gonna be who can stay even keeled and maintain their emotions the best, because punches are gonna be thrown at you, you’re gonna throw punches back, but who can continue to play on,” Stewart said. “Obviously losing Game 1 sucked and we’re not happy about it, but how are you going to respond for Game 2? This isn’t a sulk and put your head down moment, it’s like, alright, let’s get up, let’s be better and let’s show what we can do.”
And the Aces know to expect a fight from the Liberty in the second game of the series, especially now that New York has adjusted to the bright lights of the Finals.
“I remember my first game in the Finals last year. I was kind of wide-eyed. I didn’t really know what to expect, it just is a different feel,” Plum said. “So I expect them to come in and they have a ton of pride in that locker room, a lot of really good players. We’re gonna see a different team I feel like.”
The Aces will host the Liberty at Michelob Ultra Arena for Game 2 of the WNBA Finals at 9 p.m. ET Wednesday. The game will be broadcast on ESPN.