The Las Vegas Aces and the New York Liberty just completed a stretch where they played each other three times in nine days, and some of their box score stats deserve a second look.
Here are few numbers that stand out from those three games:
Wednesday, July 6 — Liberty 116, Aces 107
- New York tied a WNBA record with 18 made three-pointers.
- The teams combined for a WNBA record 31 made three-pointers.
- Sabrina Ionescu’s posted the first triple-double in WNBA history scoring 30 or more points (with no turnovers!) and tied a league record with her third overall triple-double.
- The Liberty and Aces combined to scored 223 points, the most points in a regulation game.
Tuesday, July 12 — Aces 107, Liberty 101
- The Liberty set a WNBA record with 73 points in a half.
- Ionescu set a fourth-quarter record with 21 points as New York’s furious rally fell short.
- Las Vegas became the first team in WNBA history to score 100 or more against the same opponent four times in a row.
Thursday, July 14 — Aces 108, Liberty 74
- The Aces set a record for first-half points with 71.
- Las Vegas made its first 10 shots of the game, setting a franchise record but coming up one made field goal short of tying the WNBA record.
- The Aces were also one back of the league mark for first-half assists (21) and first-half threes (12).
- Las Vegas became the first team in WNBA history to score at least 100 points in three consecutive games.
Incidentally, the WNBA changed its playoff format this season so that first-round series are best-of-three instead of single elimination. And if Las Vegas and New York met for three games like the ones we just saw, suffice to say, offensive fireworks would ensue.
The league standings are currently tiered so that there are five teams with winning records angling for homecourt in the first round, six teams fighting for the final three playoff spots, and then the Fever (sorry, Indiana). While that should set up a dramatic 4-5 matchup, the other three first-round series don’t project to have much intrigue — unless the Aces and Liberty match up against one another.
New York showed last season that it has the potential to be a giant-killer with its spread offense and high volume of three-pointers, falling to the eventual WNBA finalist Phoenix Mercury by one point in the opening-round game. The Liberty are a supercharged version of that offense now, with Ionescu playing at an all-WNBA level and Crystal Dangerfield and Marine Johannès also around to run point. When they make at least 11 threes, they’re 7-3, with four wins against that top group in the standings.
This particular New York squad also have a frontcourt that can put some pressure on Vegas, considering the playoff success of a healthy Natasha Howard and Stef Dolson, and an always-improving Han Xu. That trio combines for nearly 37 points per game against the Aces, adding an interesting complement to sharpshooting elsewhere on the floor.
It’s clear that playing Las Vegas brings out the best in the Liberty, especially on the offensive end with the way they’ve shot and shared the ball against the Aces. It also appears that New York has been a catalyst for Las Vegas to get back into form. After limping into All-Star weekend with a 2-5 record and struggling mightily defensively — A’ja Wilson said after the first game against the Liberty, “We have to communicate, we have to be on a string. Right now, our string has some little chips in it.” — the Aces have come out of the break with a vengeance.
We’ve known the Aces can score all season, as they have the best offense in the league by a comfortable margin. That shows every time they play against New York, in particular. Perhaps this last matchup against the Liberty has also rejuvenated them defensively and shored up that string.
The most interesting playoff series are generally between two teams of equal caliber, and that isn’t really the case here; Las Vegas is a championship contender and New York is still working towards that level. But the Liberty are well-suited to attack the Aces’ switching defense and their ability to continuously put points up keeps Vegas out of transition.
It’s a matchup that optimizes New York, which makes it exciting for upset potential. But the Liberty have also activated some sort of kill switch in the Aces, as seen in Thursday’s camp game, and seeing great teams at their peak is also excellent entertainment. Much like an upstart Vegas team posed an unexpected threat to the eventual champion Mystics in 2019, maybe New York could provide a similar scare to an equally-loaded Aces squad in 2022. Styles make fights, and these two teams certainly know how to put on a show.