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‘Learning curve’: Liberty newcomers see Aces’ edge in experience

NEW YORK — The Aces have Finals experience. Their entire starting five from the 2022 championship run returned this season with dreams of earning the WNBA’s first repeat title in 21 seasons.

The New York Liberty don’t have as much experience. Starters Sabrina Ionescu and Betnijah Laney, for example, are both making their Finals debuts this season.

“Obviously, they’re a veteran team, they’ve been in this position before,” Ionescu said. “A lot of us haven’t. I think that’s been part of the learning curve as well. But at the end of the day, we’ve got to come out with confidence, and I know we will — especially being at home.”

The top-seeded Aces can secure the Finals sweep and win their second straight championship by beating the No. 2 Liberty in Game 3 at noon Sunday at the Barclays Center in New York.

The Liberty know they have to defend home court before even considering a historic comeback.

“It’s not about X’s and O’s,” Liberty coach Sandy Brondello said. “It’s about competing and playing hard, and we didn’t do that.”

The Liberty aren’t completely new to the Finals. Reigning MVP Breanna Stewart won two championships with the Seattle Storm, including in 2020 against the then-upstart Aces.

All-Star Courtney Vandersloot won a championship with the Chicago Sky in 2021 with Candace Parker, now an Aces forward who has missed the second half of the season with a foot injury.

Former MVP Jonquel Jones went to the Finals with the Connecticut Sun in 2019 and 2022, losing to the Washington Mystics and Aces, respectively. She said she’s sick of playing in Finals and not winning. Jones added that the Aces have demonstrated a sense of urgency and hunger that the Liberty haven’t been able to match.

Jones also said the Liberty are still adjusting to the pressure of the Finals, but she thinks Game 3 will be the beginning of their resurgence. New York is shooting 40.7 percent from the field and just 26.6 percent from 3.

“It’s not just one individual,” Jones said. “Regardless of who it is, we need everyone to play well. We need everyone to be locked in defensively, and that’s how we’re going to win.”

Drawing historic numbers

The league announced Friday that this has been the most-watched Finals through two games in the past 21 years. An average of 680,000 people have viewed Games 1 and 2, a 13 percent improvement from 2022.

Aces wing and reigning Sixth Player of the Year Alysha Clark said it’s proof that the WNBA is a product people want to see. She said increased visibility will continue to get fans more familiar with the league and the players, which in turn can fuel more growth.

“It’s special,” Clark said. “These two teams have so much star power and just good humans. When you have that as a way for younger players and adults to be able to see and look up to, it’s dope to be a part of.”

Contact reporter Andy Yamashita at ayamashita@reviewjournal.com. Follow @ANYamashita on X.

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