Liberty defeat Aces, viewership spikes the most in five years.

On Monday August 28, the New York Liberty defeated the Las Vegas Aces 94-85 in front of a record-sellout crowd of 11,615.  The brewing rivalry had a significant impact on viewership, making the matchup the most watched regular season game in five years.  

(Brandon Todd/New York Liberty)

A day before the Commissioner's Cup, Aces guard Chelsea Gray reiterated she didn't feel the Aces and the Liberty were rivals. "You, saying it's a rivalry now, we've only played each other, twice, and not in a playoff matchup, " Gray told reporters. "When you want to speak about rivalries, I think that it's longer stages for that."

Monday's game draws recent record viewership and attendance at the Barclays.

Since that statement, New York defeated Las Vegas in the WNBA Commissioner's Cup, and won the regular season series 3-2. On top of that, the Liberty and Aces remain two of the top seeded teams in the league. On Monday night, the two clubs matched up for the fifth and final encounter of the regular season. With Sandy Brondello's squad taking the victory, both sides performed in front of a record-sellout crowd of 11,615 at the Barclay's Center. According to ESPN, Monday's game was the "most-watched WNBA Regular Season game on ESPN2 in five years." With that said, the viewership peaked at roughly 357,000 viewers, and averaged around 328,000 (ESPN).

(Sara Jane Gamelli/BallisLife)

Prior to tip off, Liberty star Breanna Stewart emphasized the importance of home games and fans. "I can't believe it's our third home game this month," Stewart told the media. "It will be nice to be back in front of our fans."

At the post-game press conference, Liberty star Sabrina Ionescu reflected on the record attendance, and how impactful the fans have been on the team. " They've [the fans] been everything all season long. To be with this team for the last couple of years, and be able to see the growth of the crowd every single year  it's just progressed in the right direction, " said Ionescu.

Sellout crowd at the Barclays

For the Liberty, it's their second game where they've had sellout crowds at home against the Aces. In their second meeting, the two teams played in front of a crowd of 11,418 fans in Brooklyn. The WNBA's growing popularity has contributed to increased attendance of games, along with viewership. According to the NBA, by the All-Star break, WNBA Merchandise sales have increased by 78 percent, and overall viewership is up 67 percent from 2022.

"For us to come into this game knowing we were going to have a sellout  it makes us want to play that much for them. When we go on those runs, the crowd erupts, the building's electric, and it just fires us up."

Based off those numbers, it's intriguing if Gray would have a different perspective regarding the possible rivalry. Although these organizations haven't met in the playoffs, they have three elements in common; talent, the desire to win, and two exceptional coaches.

At 28-7, New York remains a game and a half back of Las Vegas for the No. 1 seed in the WNBA. The Liberty are loaded with talent and hold a league best .824-win percentage since the all-star break. Prior to the game, Becky Hammons squad [the Aces] were coming of a 78-62 loss against the Mystics, and a grueling road stretch. Even with the triumph, Las Vegas leads the league in net rating, and in both defensive and offensive ratings. Both New York and Vegas hold the best win percentages in the league and have two of the most prolific offenses. Over four head-to-head matchups, excluding the Commissioners Cup, New York has an overall point differential of +17.

A growing rivalry

 (Brandon Todd/New York Liberty)

Although both teams have never faced each other in the postseason, it certainly seems like a brewing matchup between both teams. Liberty guard, Sabrina Ionescu wasn't wrong about the electric crowd at the Barclays. Despite being down early on, New York went on a 20-8 run starting in the beginning quarter and commanded a 22-19 lead by the end of the first. Regardless of the Aces stellar defense comprised of a three-guard lineup, Ionescu broke down their defensive scheme. With a few driving layups, complimented by three-pointers, Sabrina showed no hesitation. In fact, with 8.9 seconds left to go in the first half, Ionescu utilized Thorton's screen, and drained a long three in front of Stokes.

After the Aces loss to the Mystics, Hammon stated that "the Aces haven't found time to practice throughout their hectic schedule." (Danny Webster, Las Vegas Sun). Ionescu, well rested, assuredly took advantage of the oppositions demanding road schedule. Through the first quarter, the Oregon alum had 12 points, on 66.7 percent three-point shooting. By the end of regulation, Ionescu finished with 25 points, 2 rebound, 2 assists, and multiple steals. Although Breanna Stewart's shots weren't falling, and was held to 6 points, the Liberty prevailed in the first half. Jonquel Jones acquired three fouls by the second quarter and was limited to 18 total minutes. By halftime, New York commanded a 47-35 lead, in which they outscored Vegas, 25-16 in the second quarter.

For the Aces, All-Star A'ja Wilson had a tough matchup with Stewart, although she scored 15 points in the first half.

Things got heated and words were exchanged

(Sara Jane Gamelli/BallisLife)

Sabrina Ionescu's success against the Aces didn't come without drama. Words were exchanged after a foul occurred, followed by a flagrant foul on Jonquel Jones. With Kayla Thornton thrown in the middle, Chelsey Gray, of the Aces, was visibly upset. The physical play of Chelsea Gray and Sabrina Ionescu did not go unnoticed. In fact, in multiple occasions, both expressed frustration on no foul calls.

By the end of the fourth quarter, the Aces went on a 10-2 run, in which Jackie Young finished with 24 points, and Chelsey Gray with 16. With the Liberty playing tight defense and switches on the perimeter, it opened several mid-range shots for A'ja Wilson, who finished with 23 points.

The Liberty outshined the Aces

Despite lack of production from Jonquel Jones and Breanna Stewart in the first half, the Liberty's defense shined, and Sandy Brondello relied on her depth. Followed by 17 points, Betnijah Laney played strong defense, especially on Chelsey Gray. Ultimately, New York beat them on the boards 43-31, and led with dominance in the paint. Overall, their forced turnovers turned into 17 fast break points for New York. By the end of regulation, New York finished the night shooting 30.3 percent from downtown, and 45.3 percent from the field.

As far as their control in the paint, Sabrina Ionescu commented on what adjustments she made to break down the opposition. "Now I'm just going in a lot more strongly, determined to get to the basket. Understanding if I can apply pressure and get into the paint, it opens up the floor for everyone."

For the Liberty, Laney, Stewart, Ionescu, and Vandersloot finished with points in double figures. Vandersloot finished with her 31st career game with 10 assists and 15 points, which is the most in history. For the floor general, No. 22 was able to find her teammates all night, in addition to several athletic lay ins.

Breanna Stewart is all about trusting the process

Although off to a slow start, Breanna Stewart found her trajectory in the second half. With 14 second half points, the Liberty star was absurd on the defensive end. Matched up with fellow MVP Candidate A'ja Wilson, Stewart had 3 steals and 2 blocks. With the early shots not plunging, Stewart adapted her game, and finished with 7 assists.

Post game, Stewart, 29, opened up about the importance of trusting the process when it comes to development and greatness.

"We make sure that every time we're together, we make sure that we continue to fulfill our potential and understand that and trust the process, " said Stewart. " I guess it's a corny line, but that's what we did  we trusted the process and we'll continue to do that, because everyone on this team has a role."

At the post-game press conference, coach Sandy Brondello stated why Stewart is so good, even when she's not scoring. "That's just a stature of who she is," said Brondello. "It's not all about scoring big  [Stewie] can do everything. Shes going against the best player on the other team. She's rotating, she's rebounding, she's running, creating for others," Brondello told the press. "I thought she played really poised and gives us so much because she demands so much attention- so it really does open for other people as well."

Playoffs approaching

With five games left in the regular season, the New York Liberty have a vigorous schedule against Connecticut, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, and Washington. With the Commissioner's Cup in hand, the Liberty fight for the No.1 Seed with Vegas. Even though another matchup against the Aces isn't promised, one concept is for certain, the New York Liberty want to bring their first championship to New York. If both teams win their respected divisions, this will be a battle until the end. With two of the most complete and talented teams in the league, the New York and Las Vegas rivalry has just begun.

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Sara Jane is a full-time Sportswriter at BallisLife, Journalist, and Sports Content Creator on Twitch. She has a focus on the NBA, WNBA, NCAA Basketball, and the NFL. Sara Jane currently resides in Connecticut with her Cat and Dog. SJ has her undergraduate degree from the University of Connecticut in Economics.


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