The No. 1 Las Vegas Aces and No. 2 New York Liberty begin their best-of-five championship series in Las Vegas on Oct. 8, with the winner set to be crowned the 2023 WNBA Champions. The Aces and Liberty split the season series 2-2 this summer, with the Liberty taking the Commissioner’s Cup Championship Game in mid-August in Las Vegas.
June 29: Aces win 98-81 at Michelob ULTRA Arena in Las Vegas, NV
Aug. 6: Liberty win 99-61 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY
Aug. 15: Liberty win 82-63 at Michelob ULTRA Arena in Las Vegas, NV (Commissioner’s Cup)
Aug. 17: Aces win 88-75 at Michelob ULTRA Arena in Las Vegas, NV
Aug. 28: Liberty win 94-85 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY
Game One: Michelob ULTRA Arena – 3:00 p.m. ET on Oct. 8 (ABC)
Game Two: Michelob ULTRA Arena – 9:00 p.m. ET on Oct. 11 (ESPN)
Game Three: Barclays Center – 3:00 p.m. ET on Oct. 15 (ABC)
Game Four (if necessary): Barclays Center – 8:00 p.m. ET on Oct. 18 (ESPN)
Game Five (if necessary): Michelob ULTRA Arena – 9:00 p.m. ET on Oct. 20 (ESPN)
Matchups We Can’t Wait To Watch:
Matt Cohen: Everyone will be focusing on A’ja Wilson and Breanna Stewart, and rightfully so. I wrote about Stewie and Wilson in 2023, and both are truly phenomenal players buttressed by championships, MVP awards, and innumerable other accolades. But that isn’t the matchup I want to focus on.
I want to see the Jonquel Jones versus Kiah Stokes battle because here is where I feel this series can truly turn. Jones has been a monster during the 2023 playoffs (more on her later) and has helped fuel the Liberty by sparking the offense when it stalls out or anchoring the defensive end when the team needs a critical stop. At most other positions in this matchup, it is are either a draw or slight advantage one way or the other, but this is an area where one of the centers could conceivably take control.
If I’m a Liberty fan, I have to like the odds, especially since this was supposed to be Candace Parker, not Stokes. But Stokes is no slouch defensively, allowing an “excellent” 0.760 points per possession (PPP) all season, per Synergy Sports. Stokes was a big reason why Jones averaged only 9.5 points per game (PPG) in the four regular season matchups against the Aces. Jones locked into her role in the second half of this season and has carried that over into the playoffs, but Stokes may become the unlikely hero if she can lock down Jones throughout this five-game set. Either way, we should all be watching closely.
Mitchell Hansen: The matchup between Breanna Stewart and A’ja Wilson will gain a bulk of the attention and headlines, but I’m looking forward to seeing how the guards for each team perform throughout the Finals.
New York’s starting guard group of Sabrina Ionescu and Courtney Vandersloot and Las Vegas’ guard unit of Chelsea Gray and Kelsey Plum can take games over at any moment, notably from three and by helping move the ball to open things up offensively. During the regular season, the Aces guards ranked first in the WNBA in three-point percentage (41.6 percent), and the Liberty finished not far behind in second (39.2 percent). When it comes to distributing the ball, New York’s guards averaged a league-best 17.0 assists per contest, while Las Vegas ranked second with 16.0 assists a game.
There are many intriguing and interesting matchups within this battle of the super teams, but the guard play could be a key factor when it comes to being able to take games over via the hot hand.
MC: I’m going to focus on rebounding. During the 2023 playoffs, the Liberty are second in offensive rebounds per game (OREB) with just over 11.0 per game. Conversely, the Aces are first in defensive rebounds per game (DREB) with over 31.0 per game, and they are the only team in the postseason to average over 30.0. Whichever team controls the rebounding battle will likely control pace of play and dictate the offensive terms. This is a chess battle of two elite coaching minds, and any advantage one of them can get they’ll take.
MH: For New York, I think the biggest X factor will be Betnijah Laney, if she is able to continue her strong play that she displayed in the semifinal round against Connecticut. Laney turned her game up a notch and provided New York with a nice spark from deep while scoring 20 or more points in three straight games heading into the Finals. In New York’s five playoffs wins thus far, Laney has scored 19 or more points in each of those games. In the lone loss in Game One of the semifinals, she scored just three. The Liberty need more than Laney to step up in order to top the Aces, but her play as of late will need to continue for New York to come out on top in the Finals.
For Las Vegas, I’m looking at Kiah Stokes as an X factor, specifically what she is able to do on the defensive end of the floor. As Matt mentioned in the “Matchups We Can’t Wait To Watch” portion, Stokes will have the task of helping protect the paint while going up against Jonquel Jones—who has recorded a double-double every game this postseason—as the starting center on the other side. Stokes has been tasked with filling in at center while Candace Parker remains sidelined, and she’s shown the ability to help protect the paint and haul in rebounds even though she doesn’t necessarily take games over with her offense. Throughout this series, Stokes will be key in trying to limit Jones and company while also taking care of the glass to limit New York’s opportunities on offense.
MC: Aces attempt fewer than 12 free throws a game.
This may not seem like much of a prediction, but the Aces average over 18.0 free throw attempts per playoff game this season, tops in the league. The Liberty are second in fewest personal fouls per game and have really clicked defensively for the past two and a half months. I think the Liberty will remain poised and will play clean games, limiting what Wilson and the Aces get from the charity stripe in an attempt to win these games while the clock is running.
MC: Liberty finally win it all.
It’s really hard to bet against the Aces, who have been pacing the league all season and coming off a championship of their own in 2022. Maybe not having lost a game in the postseason will ultimately help them, but I’m an advocate for learning from losing, especially in the playoffs. The Liberty lost their series opener at home to the Connecticut Sun in the semifinals, which could easily have doomed them the rest of the way. Instead, they won three straight, including two at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville. That’s no easy task, and the Liberty have been too good and incredibly gelled for some time now. It won’t be easy, and it may take the full five-game slate, but the Liberty will finally win the long-elusive WNBA championship.
MH: Jonquel Jones will average 20.0/10.0 in the Finals.
Jones has been playing her best basketball of the season at the best possible time and has been key for New York throughout the postseason so far. In six playoff games leading into the WNBA Finals, Jones has averaged 16.5 points, 12.8 rebounds, 2.2 blocks, and 2.0 assists in 35.8 minutes a game, recording a double-double in every playoff game thus far. Jones will have a favorable matchup going up against Las Vegas’ Kiah Stokes on the other end of the court, meaning she will have the opportunity to continue to step up and play well for the Liberty in the Finals. In the series-clinching Game Four of the semifinals against Connecticut, Jones posted 25 points and 15 rebounds, and I believe she will have a similar showing over the course of the championship series, averaging at least 20.0 points and 10.0 boards against the Aces.
MH: Aces will make it back-to-back in five games.
As we saw over the regular season, these two teams have been evenly matched for the most part, setting the stage for what should be a back-and-forth and entertaining championship series. With that said, I think the depth of Las Vegas and the fact it has a threat at nearly every position will be just enough to top New York in the end. I’m predicting the first four games of the series will be fairly even, but give me the Aces on their home court in a series-deciding Game Five to win their second straight championship.
Stats as of Oct. 3, 2023 and—unless otherwise noted—courtesy of WNBA.com.