Jones, Liberty stay alive in WNBA Finals

  • Sheldon Longley
  • Oct 16, 2023
  •  0
Aces LIberty Basketball
New York Liberty’s Jonquel Jones (35) during the second half in Game 3 of a WNBA basketball final playoff series against the Las Vegas Aces Sunday, Oct. 15, 2023, in New York. The Liberty won 87-73. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)Frank Franklin II

Bahamian professional women’s basketball player Jonquel ‘JJ’ Jones might have had her impressive record-setting playoff double-double streak come to an end, but she had one of the highest-scoring games of her playoff career, and the New York Liberty rode that performance to an 87-73 win, pulling to within two games to one in the best-of-five Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) Finals.

The Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, was rocking for Game Three of the series on Sunday, and with their backs against the wall, feeding off the excitement of the Liberty’s first home championship game in 21 years, Jones and her team rose to the occasion to get their first win of the series. It was their first win in the WNBA Finals since 1999. It’s also the first loss for the Aces in the postseason this year.

The Bahamian star out of Holmes Rock, Grand Bahama, finished with a side-high 27 points, and just missed what would have been her ninth straight double-double in the playoffs, as she added eight rebounds. She shot 10-for-15 from the field and was over 50 percent from deep, going 4-for-7. Jones had an MVP performance in the game as she added three assists, three huge blocks and two steals.

The real MVP (Most Valuable Player) Breanna Stewart added 20 points on 8-for-16 shooting, 12 rebounds and four assists, for the winning Liberty. Stewart won her second WNBA MVP Award this season. On Sunday, Betnijah Laney and Courtney Vandersloot added 12 points apiece for the Liberty.

The Aces were paced by a game-high 29 points from guard Kelsey Plum, 14 of which came in the fourth quarter. Two-time WNBA MVP and two-time WNBA Defensive Player of the Year, including one this year, A’ja Wilson, added 16 points and 11 rebounds for the defending champions Aces, but shot just 4-for-16 from the field. Point guard Chelsea Gray was the only other player in double figures for them, scoring 11.

The Aces led just once in Game Three, 8-7, after Plum made two free shots at the 6:20 mark of the opening quarter. Sabrina Ionescu buried a 23-foot three point jumper 19 seconds later on an assist from Vandersloot, and the Liberty never looked back. They went on to lead 21-18 after the first quarter and 43-40 at the half. Jones had 16 of her 27 points in the first half.

The Liberty opened the second half on a 12-3 scoring run, including scoring the first eight points of the second half, to take their first double digit lead of the game, and they continued the momentum as they went on to lead 61-50 at the end of three quarters, holding the Aces to just 10 points in the third.

The Aces stayed within reach, eventually getting the lead down to just six points, 67-61, on two free shots from Wilson as she stole the ball and drove almost the length of the court before getting fouled on a layup attempt to go to the free throw line. She hit both free shots and the Aces trailed by just six, 67-61, with 5:31 remaining.

Feeling the heat, Jones, Stewart and Laney led the Liberty on a 12-3 run to stretch the lead back to double digits and put the game away.

For the game, the Liberty shot 52.4 percent from the field, going 33-for-63 compared to just 33.3 percent for the Aces, 23-for-69. They were also 43.3 percent from deep (13-for-30) compared to 31.8 percent (7-for-22) for the Aces. The Liberty also dished out 28 assists compared to just 13 for their counterparts, and had eight blocked shots, led by three from Jones, while the Aces didn’t block a single shot.

Jones had four of the Liberty’s 13 three-point shots.

“She (Jones) was huge for us,” said Liberty Head Coach Sandy Brondello. “Those 3’s changed the moment of the game a bit. The ball went in. Other games the ball weren’t going in for us. We got back to our identity. Proud of the effort and commitment and connection we had. Now we’ve got to do it again.”

The Liberty led by as much 17 points late in the fourth quarter, cruising to the easy win.

The Liberty struggled in the first two games of the series, losing by a combined 45 points, 99-82 in Game One, and 104-76 in Game Two. They did what they needed to do on Sunday to stay alive in the series, winning 87-73.

The Liberty must keep it going as they have to win again on Wednesday if they want to extend the series. Game Four is set for 8 p.m. at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn on Wednesday. Game Five, if necessary, will be played at 9 p.m. at the Michelob ULTRA Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, on Friday. Both games will be televised on ESPN.

The Aces are looking to become the first team to win consecutive titles in the WNBA since the 2001-02 Los Angeles Sparks. That came on the heels of the Houston Comets winning the WNBA’s first four championships.

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