The highly-anticipated WNBA Finals between the two league superteams is finally upon us. The No. 2 seed New York Liberty led by 2023 WNBA MVP Breanna Stewart will challenge the defending champion Las Vegas Aces led by two-time MVP A'ja Wilson for the right to be crowned 2023 WNBA Champions.
This Finals clash between the Liberty and the Aces has all the ingredients to be a classic. This series could also take this budding heated rivalry to the next level.
Las Vegas expectedly enters this series as the favorites to win back-to-back Finals. They've strolled through the playoffs so far, winning by an average of 14.8 points through five games so far. If this was any other year, Las Vegas should easily be well on its way to another coronation. But the Liberty have a similarly juggernaut team to deal with this Aces powerhouse.
There are good reasons to believe that New York can prevent Las Vegas from winning its second straight Finals. With that said, here are three reasons why the Liberty will conquer the Aces in the 2023 WNBA Finals and win their first championship in franchise history.
1. The Liberty have the Aces' number
New York and Las Vegas split their regular season series, with both teams winning on their respective home courts. But the Liberty did win the 2023 WNBA Commissioner's Cup convincingly with an 82-63 victory on the Aces' home court — therefore giving New York the 3-2 advantage in all their matchups this 2023 season. Though the Aces enter the Finals with an unblemished playoff record so far, New York could have a slight edge mentally knowing it had Las Vegas' number during the regular season.
All of New York and Las Vegas' meetings were blowouts, save for a 94-85 Liberty victory on August 28th, which was their last encounter before they clash in the Finals. Las Vegas won its two games by an average of 15 points. Meanwhile, the Liberty know they can beat the Aces handily after they eradicated the defending champs to the tune of a 99-61 beatdown last August 6th, arguably New York's best game of the season.
Looking at just their regular season series (not including the Commissioner's Cup Finals), the Liberty outplayed the Aces over the four games overall. New York was a +4.3 in the four games and also had a +6.0 net rating. They also held Las Vegas to 45.0 percent field goal shooting and just 35.9 percent shooting from beyond the arc — both below the Aces' regular season percentages of 48.6 percent and 37.2 percent, respectively. In the two wins, New York forced Vegas to shoot just 38.8 percent from the field and 32.6 percent from three.
In the Commissioner's Cup game, the Liberty won on both sides of the floor. They were lights out from beyond the arc and shot 15-of-35 from three. Marines Johanes, in particular, was the X-factor of that game as she connected on five three-pointers to finish with 17 points off the bench. Meanwhile, New York held Las Vegas to just 33.3 percent shooting from the field and 5-of-26 shooting from long distance.
The main theme from the Liberty's wins is that they were able to shut down the Aces on the defensive side of the floor, while maintaining the productivity and efficiency of their three-point and movement-heavy offense. If New York is able to do this, the Liberty could very well emerge as 2023 WNBA champs.
2. The Liberty's three-point shooting could spell the difference
The 2023 New York Liberty were the best three-point shooting team in WNBA history.
The Liberty made 444 three-pointers throughout the year, breaking the record for most three-pointers made in a single season. New York also had the highest three-point percentage in the league, at 37.4 percent. Over 90 percent of their shots from beyond the arc came off assists, which is one of the reasons why they shot the ball so efficiently.
The Liberty also led the WNBA in three-point attempts with nearly 29 per game, accounting for 42.4 percent of their total shots. Furthermore, 37.3 percent of their points came from long distance.
In their three wins over Las Vegas this season, New York also torched the defending champs from beyond the arc — they shot 39.6 percent while converting 14.0 threes per game. In their two blowout wins, the Liberty made 32 threes combined on a scorching 43.9 percent shooting.
Las Vegas also clearly had a problem dealing with the Liberty's three-point shooting, even in the losses. New York still shot 39.0 percent from long distance in its two defeats against the Aces, who ranked just 6th in the league in opponents' three-point percentage.
3. Betnijah Laney is heating up
Betnijah Laney's recent surge is another reason the Liberty can pull off the upset.
We all know the usual suspects for New York are going to show up. Breanna Stewart has regained her MVP form after a subpar first-round and an underwhelming performance in Game 1 of their semi-finals series versus the Connecticut Sun. Jonquel Jones has also been incredibly dominant inside the paint as she is averaging a double-double (16.5 points and 12.8 rebounds) in the playoffs so far. Sabrina Ionescu has also been herself through six postseason games with an average of 16.3 points per game on 43.2 percent shooting from three.
But one Liberty player has been playing out of her mind as of late — and that is Betnijah Laney.
Betnijah Laney is ready for the WNBA Finals 🔥 pic.twitter.com/3WXV8Jnjse
— espnW (@espnW) October 1, 2023
Laney has emerged as New York's second-leading scorer with an average of 17.0 points per game on a scorching 48.2 percent shooting from the field and 43.8 percent shooting from three. She has scored at least 19 points in five of six playoff games so far.
The 6-foot forward has been on a heater, in particular, over New York's last three games in the semis. Through that stretch, Laney averaged 20.3 points while shooting an insane 52.6 percent from beyond the arc.
Betnijah Laney was a force in the Semi-Finals 😤
Game 2: 20 PTS, 4 REB, 3 AST
Game 3: 20 PTS, 8 REB, 4 AST
Game 4: 21 PTS, 7 REB, 5 AST
— WNBA (@WNBA) October 1, 2023
If Laney continues to produce the way she is doing, the Liberty have a huge chance to take down the Aces.