The much-anticipated start of the WNBA Finals showdown between Aces and the Liberty is scheduled for Sunday.
The Las Vegas Aces and New York Liberty are on the brink of commencing their eagerly awaited WNBA Finals clash, pitting two teams projected as preseason favorites to contend for the championship.
Both squads boast lineups brimming with MVPs, All-Stars, and future Hall-of-Famers that dominated the regular season. As the championship is at stake, it is expected that the games will be more competitive compared to the regular season blowouts, with the closest margin of victory being nine points in their previous encounters.
“This is akin to our version of March Madness, and it’s wide open,” remarked Las Vegas forward A’ja Wilson. “I don’t anticipate seeing many lopsided games because both teams are exceptional, and we are hitting our stride at the right time.
When we faced each other earlier, some players were revving up, some were nearing peak form, and some were finding their groove. But I believe we are now all on the same page regarding our team’s capabilities.”
History will be made no matter which team wins.
The reigning champions, the Aces, have the opportunity to achieve something remarkable – being the first team to secure back-to-back titles since the Los Angeles Sparks accomplished the feat 21 years ago. A championship would also further cement their status as one of the most dominant regular season teams in WNBA history, placing them alongside the likes of the Sparks, the Houston Comets who clinched four consecutive titles, and the Detroit Shock with three championships in six years. Las Vegas already made history this season by setting a WNBA record with 34 regular-season victories.
For the Liberty, a championship would be an unprecedented achievement and the realization of their aspirations following some significant offseason moves. Although New York and Las Vegas split their four regular-season matchups, the Liberty delivered a resounding 82-63 victory in the Commissioner’s Cup championship.
“They are an incredibly formidable team,” stated Aces coach Becky Hammon. “You can’t contain them with just one player.”
Liberty coach Sandy Brondello emphasized that the playoffs elevate the competition to another level.
“The playoffs bring a heightened level of intensity,” Brondello explained. “This is for the championship. We need to approach every moment with greater urgency and a sense of desperation. Every play counts, and that’s where our focus lies.”
Liberty forward Breanna Stewart, the AP Player of the Year and the WNBA MVP, concurred with her coach’s sentiments.
“The anticipation and enthusiasm from the fans and the entire city is palpable,” Stewart noted. “When you’re competing at the highest level of basketball, there’s pressure in every aspect. We’re determined to embrace it wholeheartedly.”
One of the key player matchups to keep a close eye on features 6-foot-4 forwards A’ja Wilson and Breanna Stewart.
Wilson, who secured the MVP title in 2020 and 2022, felt she had a strong case for winning it once more this year. However, the award went to Stewart, marking her second MVP honor. Additionally, the two served as opposing captains at this year’s All-Star Game in Las Vegas, where Team Stewart emerged victorious with a 16-point lead.
“This is the marquee matchup everyone is eager to witness,” Wilson remarked. “I’m excited to be a part of it because it’s beneficial for our sport. Nevertheless, I believe it won’t solely revolve around us.”
Stewart boasts an unblemished record when it comes to championship scenarios in both her college and WNBA careers.
Throughout her time at UConn, she went a perfect 4 for 4 in NCAA championship runs. Her entry into the WNBA Finals with Seattle in 2018 and 2020 also resulted in championship victories during those respective years.
Stewart emphasized that she does not take championship opportunities lightly.
“Reaching this stage is no easy feat,” she emphasized. “At times, we may think, ‘I want to be here every year,’ but then the reality sets in that it’s not always feasible. So, appreciating all the hard work we invested in April and May is precisely for this very moment.”
Games 1 and 2 in Las Vegas, along with a possible decisive Game 5, have reached full capacity in terms of ticket sales.
This season, the Aces topped the WNBA in attendance, averaging 9,551 fans per game and experiencing seven sold-out games. Notably, a record-breaking 17,406 spectators gathered to watch them face the Phoenix Mercury on September 10, necessitating a move to the larger T-Mobile Arena due to scheduling constraints at the Michelob Ultra Arena.