Bahamian wins MVP award as Liberty pull away from the defending champs
Bahamian professional women’s basketball player Jonquel “JJ” Jones and the New York Liberty blew a double-digit lead against the Las Vegas Aces in the first half on Tuesday, but rebounded in the second half to win the third edition of the Commissioner’s Cup, an in-season tournament in the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) played between the two top teams from the Eastern Conference and the Western Conference of the league.
They prevailed 82-63, stamping their authority on the best the league has to offer and establishing themselves as the team to beat this season. Additionally, Jones won the Most Valuable Player (MVP) Award after scoring 16 points and pulling down a game-high 15 rebounds.
For the Liberty, it was their second win against the WNBA defending champions in the last two weeks and this time it came on the Aces’ home court, at the Michelob ULTRA Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada. They will play each other again, on Thursday at the same venue, but this one was for Commissioner’s Cup bragging rights and a splendid gold-plated Commissioner’s Cup trophy, that features an 11-inch broad crown and a halved nine-inch wide basketball. It’s the first trophy in 27 years for the Liberty, one of the league’s three remaining original franchises.
Also, a total of $500,000 is awarded in prize money, with the winning team making around $30,000 per player and the game’s Most Valuable Player (MVP) taking home an additional $5,000. Safe to say, it was a pocket filler for Jones as she bagged about $35,000 for her efforts. On the losing team’s side, players earn $10,000 each.
As for the game, the Liberty took control in the third quarter and pulled away in the fourth for a convincing win over the defending champs. They won by 38 on August 6 in Brooklyn, New York, and consolidated the win with another dominant performance last night, winning by 19. The 38-point win was the second largest win in the Liberty’s franchise history, and the biggest losing margin by a team with the best record in the league.
Jones was fantastic on Tuesday, as mentioned, finishing with 16 points and a game-high 15 rebounds. She and teammate Courtney Vandersloot were the only players in the game to record a double-double. Vandersloot had 11 points and 10 assists. It was reserve guard Marine Johannès, of France, who got the Liberty off to a strong start, knocking down four of five three pointers early, and finishing with a side-high 17 for the game. Breanna “Stewie” Stewart added 13 points and seven rebounds for the Liberty, and Sabrina Ionescu gave them five players in double figures with 12 points and she added eight rebounds.
Jackie Young paced the Aces with 16 points. Kelsey Plum and Chelsea Gray added 15 points apiece and two-time WNBA MVP A’ja Wilson was held to just nine.
Led by Johannès, the Liberty’s bench outscored the Aces’ bench, 28-8, and led by Jones, they dominated on the boards, 49-28. They were also efficient from the field and from deep. The Liberty shot 40.6 percent for the game (28-for-69) compared to 33.3 percent for the Aces (23-for-69). They shot 15-for-35 from three point range, compared to just 5-for-26 for the Aces.
The Liberty were up 17-11 after one and led by as much as 11 in the first half, but the Aces came storming back to take a 34-32 lead at the break.
After Young scored five quick points to open the second half, including a three point shot, the Liberty went on a 9-2 scoring run to pull even at 41. Moments later, they took their first lead of the second half on a layup from Kayla Thornton, 44-43, and they never looked back. The Liberty went on to lead 56-48 at the end of three.
They quickly got that lead up to double digits at the start of the fourth and the Aces had no answer. The Liberty went on to lead by as much as 20 points in the fourth.
If last season’s result is any indication, the Liberty will go on to win the WNBA title as well, as the Aces rode a strong performance in the 2022 Commissioner’s Cup to win their inaugural championship in the WNBA. It remains to be seen what will happen going forward, as there is still a long way to go in the season.
The Aces continue to lead the standings with a 27-3 win/loss record, as the Commissioner’s Cup’s championship game doesn’t count toward the standings. The Liberty are second at 24-6, but have now taken two out of three against the defending champs this season. They have also won seven straight and 11 out of their last 12.
The two teams will play each other again on Thursday as the regular season resumes. They are the only two teams in the league to clinch a playoff spot so far this season.