New York Liberty's Jonquel Jones (35) during the second half in Game 3 of a WNBA basketball final playoff series against the Las Vegas Aces Sunday, Oct. 15, 2023, in New York. The Liberty won 87-73. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
By DOUG FEINBERG
AP Basketball Writer
NEW YORK (AP) — Jonquel Jones scored 27 points and Breanna Stewart added 20 to help the New York Liberty beat the Las Vegas Aces 87-73 yesterday in the WNBA Finals and force a Game 4.
New York struggled in the first two games against the Aces in Las Vegas, but the Liberty found their shooting touch in Game 3 behind Jones, who hit four of the team’s 13 3-pointers.
“She was huge for us,” Liberty coach Sandy Brondello said of Jones, who came to the Liberty in a trade in the offseason. “Those 3’s changed the moment of the game a bit. The ball went in. Other games the ball weren’t going in for us. We got back to our identity. Proud of the effort and commitment and connection we had. Now we’ve got to do it again.”
This was the Liberty’s first win in the WNBA Finals since Teresa Weatherspoon’s half-court shot in Game 2 against Houston in 1999. The Aces are up 2-1 in the best-of-five series and Game 4 is Wednesday night in New York.
The Liberty led by three at halftime before scoring the first eight points of the third quarter to take a double-digit lead, bringing the crowd of 17,143 to its feet. They led 61-50 after three quarters.
Behind A’ja Wilson, the Aces got to within six before Stewart hit a turnaround jumper and Betnijah Laney stole the ball from Jackie Young at half court and made a layup to extend the lead back to 10.
Las Vegas didn’t challenge the rest of the way and star guard Chelsea Gray went back to the locker room midway through the fourth quarter after inuring her foot.
“I can’t give you an update, I’ll let you know when we know,” Las Vegas coach Becky Hammon said.
Kelsey Plum scored 29 points and Wilson added 16 points and 11 rebounds for the Aces, who are looking to become the first team to win consecutive titles since the 2001-02 Los Angeles Sparks. That came on the heels of the Houston Comets winning the WNBA’s first four championships.
“This is a good team we’re talking about, obviously a different feeling in their place,” Wilson said of the Liberty. “We still have a chance to take care of business.”
The Aces had won their first seven games in this postseason by an average of 17.3 points. They were looking to become the first team to go 8-0 in a WNBA postseason and the first to not lose a game since Seattle in 2020.
The first two games of the series, as well as the four regular-season meetings, were all blowouts, with the closest game being a nine-point win by New York on August 28. That was the last loss the Aces had until yesterday.
New York had stretches of playing well in the first half, buoyed by the sellout crowd that included NBA Commissioner Adam Silver as well as basketball greats Dawn Staley, Sue Bird and Tony Parker.
The Liberty extended their lead to 41-34 on Jones’ layup with 2:27 left in the half before the Aces got within 43-40 at the break. Jones had 16 points in the first half while Plum scored 15.
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This was the first WNBA Finals game in New York since 2002, when the Liberty were swept by the Sparks.
Hammon was playing on that New York squad and remembers how excited the city was amid the team’s success. No New York basketball team in either the NBA or WNBA has made it that far since. “This is New York City, this is a basketball mecca. It’s good when all the sports teams do good. The Nets, the Knicks, the Liberty,” Hammon said.
“It’s a basketball town. Fans here, they want and expect good basketball. When you don’t put it on the floor, they’ll let you know about it, too.”
Liberty greats Vickie Johnson, Crystal Robinson, Sue Wicks and Weatherspoon, who played with Hammon on New York’s previous Finals teams, were all in attendance and received a loud ovation from the crowd when they were introduced in the third quarter. New York’s coach at that time, Richie Adubato, was also in the crowd.
The Finals brought out celebrities from all walks of life, including musician Joan Jett, actors Jason Sudeikis and Michael Shannon and journalist Robin Roberts. Lil’ Kim performed at halftime.