LAS VEGAS — At halftime of the first game of the showcase event on the WNBA calendar, Las Vegas Aces head coach Becky Hammon said that her team gave themselves a “D” grade for their first half play. As it turned out, you could use the same letter to describe their final 30 minutes as well.
“D” as in delightful, and dominant, and determined.
Jackie Young and Kelsey Plum each scored a playoff career-high 26 points, helping Las Vegas turn around a five-point third quarter deficit as the Aces ran away from the New York Liberty, 99-82, to win Game 1 of the WNBA Finals inside Michelob Ultra Arena on Sunday afternoon. Another Aces backcourt starter, 2022 WNBA Finals MVP Chelsea Gray, celebrated her 31st birthday with 20 points, nine assists and six rebounds, while former WNBA MVP A’ja Wilson had 19 points, eight rebounds and three blocks.
The backcourt trio of Young, Plum and Gray outscored the combination of Liberty guards Sabrina Ionescu, Courtney Vandersloot and Betnijah Laney 72-28.
“You see the growth from our guards: We’re patient,” Gray said. “If we get into the paint and nothing is there, we kick it back out and go to the second action. We’ve taken things a level up.”
Breanna Stewart, the 2023 WNBA Most Valuable Player, led the Liberty with 21 points, but was held to 8-for-19 shooting. Jonquel Jones had 16 points and 10 rebounds.
The Aces led 16-10 before New York ended the first quarter on a 15-6, using eight points off the bench from Marine Johannès to surge in front. The Liberty maintained a three-point advantage going into halftime, then built a 51-46 lead in the third after scoring the first basket of the second half.
Young and the rest of the Aces found their stroke from there, as the Aces shot 60 percent in the third and used a 6-0 run to take the lead for good at 60-55. Las Vegas outscored the Liberty 26-16, with Young scoring 12 of her points in the quarter while the Aces shot 60 percent from the field in the stanza. Wilson also chipped in nine points to help the Aces build their lead.
Plum and Gray then took over the fourth quarter, combining for 19 of the Aces’ 27 points as Las Vegas built a 94-72 lead with 3:32 remaining. The Aces’ backcourt feasted when attacking their New York counterparts, and Las Vegas upper their shooting percentage to 62.5 percent in the final frame.
“Our trio of guards, I thought, were pretty ridiculous,” Hammon said.
*Editor’s note: Above the byline is the photo gallery from Sunday afternoon’s contest, with all photos taken by Las Vegas-area photographer Arnie Bazemore. After clicking on the first photo to enlarge the picture, make sure to press the left and right arrow buttons to scroll through the rest of the pictures. There are 19 pictures in total.