Jonquel Jones scores career-high 34 points as Liberty defeat Aces in WNBA Finals rematch

The league’s two best superteams put on a show reminiscent of last year’s WNBA Finals that ended with the Las Vegas Aces celebrating their second-consecutive title.

But Saturday’s rematch was a bit different, with both teams missing their starting point guards in a lower stakes regular-season game that ended with the New York Liberty winning, 90-82, at Michelob Ultra Arena in Las Vegas.

Against the current MVP frontrunner — A’ja WilsonJonquel Jones put on a dominant performance in front of a national TV audience that’ll force voters to keep an eye on the all-around star sporting New York’s seafoam colors.

Jones led the way with a career-high 34 points and eight rebounds. She shot 12n for 16 from the field, including four made treys. It’s her third straight game with at least 20 points and eight rebounds.

Thirty-four points on 75% shooting is an impressive, dominant outing. Doing it against the league’s best defender and a stifling frontcourt duo — Wilson and Kiah Stokes — is even more impressive.

“Just keeping the defense honest,” Jones said about her offensive onslaught against Las Vegas. “Understanding that there’s different levels that I can kind of attack the game from and approach the game from. That was my mindset [today]. Just not overthink …”

Whether it was in the paint or on the perimeter, Jones caused havoc all afternoon. And her dagger trey with 2:39 minutes remaining in the regulation forced Aces head coach Becky Hammon to call timeout while the 2021 MVP celebrated her 30th point of the night.

Saturday’s win against Las Vegas is the Liberty’s eighth straight victory. On the other hand, the Aces lost for the fifth time in seven games. The Liberty now have a 1-0 season series lead after taking advantage of a struggling Aces team without Chelsea Gray, who has yet to play in the 2024 season after suffering a foot injury in Game 3 of the WNBA Finals last year.

Gray was listed as available, but didn’t play Saturday.

Sandy Brondello’s squad made sure to steal a road win against a possible postseason opponent, getting them closer to home-court advantage if they again cross paths in the postseason.

The Aces should eventually get back on track, but looked sloppy without Gray Saturday. The early see-saw battle fell apart in the second half with the Liberty entering the fourth quarter up seven following a 14-0 run in the third. By then, the game was out of reach with the Libs getting their largest lead of the game (18) in the fourth. The Liberty’s strong outing negated Wilson’s 17th straight game with at least 20 points. She logged 21 points, nine rebounds and a block in the loss.

The Liberty started the game making seven of eight treys, including Sabrina Ionescu’s logo three-pointer to end the first.

When asked which was more impressive — the torrid deep shots to start or the 14-0 third-quarter run that featured no treys — Brondello gave a simple answer: “I think both.”

The head coach added that the team discussed getting deep shots up against the Aces, who currently rank second-worst in the WNBA in three-pointers allowed (9.8) and attempted (25.0). The Liberty shot 12 for 28 (42.9%) in Saturday’s win.

“So we talked about that in our preparation knowing how we can exploit them a little bit here,” Brondello said postgame. “Still have to make them … It’s a great percentage for us. I think we’re getting better and better at making threes now and getting really wide open ones.”

Following the torrid 7 for 8 start, the Libs shot 1 for 12 from downtown while Kelsey Plum caught fire.

The Aces went on two separate runs in the second: an 8-0 run to tie the game at 30 and another 10-2 run following a Liberty push. Plum propelled her team with 14 points in the quarter on five made field goals, including two from deep. And she let Ionescu know she was too small to guard her after converting an and-one.

Despite Jones’ 17 points at halftime, the Aces were down just two and benefitted from a stalled Liberty offense to start the third.

The Aces went up six after another run of their own in the early moments of the third, but that was the last time Hammon’s squad had a grip on the game.

It was all Jones from there, as she scored 17 points in the second half en route to victory.

Ionescu again handled point guard duties with Courtney Vandersloot out (personal reasons). The Oregon product logged 15 points and 12 assists.

Breanna Stewart scored 14 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and recorded two steals. Laney-Hamilton logged 12 points and seven rebounds.

Plum eventually cooled off and finished with 22 points. Alysha Clark and Jackie Young scored 13 and 10 points, respectively.