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Road-weary Aces lose to Liberty in game with playoff implications

For about six minutes Monday, you couldn’t tell that the Aces were playing their 11th game since Aug. 6.

The Aces led by nine points late in the first quarter in a game against the New York Liberty with playoff implications.

But then disaster struck. The Liberty ended the quarter on a 15-3 run en route to a 94-85 victory before a sold-out crowd of 11,615 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.

“We’ve got to play 40 minutes,” coach Becky Hammon said. “This team is too good to not play 40 minutes.”

The loss was the Aces’ third in five games and the first time they have lost back-to-back games since Aug. 4, 2022.

New York (28-7) trails the Aces (30-6) by 1½ games for the No. 1 seed in the WNBA playoffs. The Liberty have five games left and Las Vegas four. The teams split the season series 2-2, so the tiebreaker will be their record against opponents with a .500 record or better.

Aces wing Jackie Young scored 24 points and went 4 of 6 on 3-pointers. A’ja Wilson added 23 points, eight rebounds and four blocks.

Guard Sabrina Ionescu had a game-high 25 points for the Liberty. Forward Breanna Stewart scored 20, and point guard Courtney Vandersloot and wing Betnijah Laney each added 17.

The Aces return home from the four-game road trip to face the Washington Mystics on Thursday at Michelob Ultra Arena.

Here are three takeaways from the game:

1. Ionescu gets loose again

The Aces have done a decent job containing Stewart this season.

The former MVP has averaged 17.3 points on 34 percent shooting, well below her season averages. On Monday, the Aces limited Stewart to 39 percent shooting, and she went 0 for 7 on 3-pointers.

Instead, Ionescu has done the damage against the Aces, averaging 20 points and shooting 54 percent on 3s in the first three regular-season games between the teams. She went 5 of 10 from beyond the arc and made 57.1 percent of her shots Monday.

Hammon was critical of the team’s defense against Ionescu.

“It’s inexcusable,” she said. “It’s borderline negligence.”

2. Second-quarter defense

The Aces surrendered the lead late in the first quarter. Their defense collapsed in the second.

New York went 10 of 17 from the field and made half of its 3s to expand its lead to double figures. The Liberty also got timely baskets from reserve wing Marine Johannes, who scored five of her eight points early in the second quarter after the Aces tied the game.

Hammon said small mistakes on offense and defense snowballed into big Liberty runs.

“It’s death by a thousand cuts,” she said.

3. Aces backcourt goes cold

Guards Chelsea Gray and Kelsey Plum endured difficult nights, combining for 25 points on 7-of-27 shooting. They each went 1 of 5 on 3-pointers, and Plum fouled out with 3:35 remaining.

Wilson said the team was happy with the shots the two took. Hammon said fatigue often impacts shooting efficiency.

“I’m going to trust my guards no matter what,” Wilson said. “I hope they keep shooting the basketball.”

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

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