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Wilson tearful after Aces lose to Liberty in Finals rematch — PHOTOS

Updated June 15, 2024 - 8:59 pm

Postgame tears are normally reserved for championship wins and losses, but A’ja Wilson broke that norm after a matchup with stakes that felt almost as high.

Wilson broke down after the Aces fell to the New York Liberty 90-82 on Saturday afternoon at Michelob Ultra Arena. It was the back-to-back champions’ first meeting with the Liberty since defeating New York in the 2023 WNBA Finals.

Saturday’s matchup had everything the Finals did and more, including Breanna Stewart, the reigning MVP, clashing with Wilson, who is the overwhelming favorite for the award this season.

Wilson recorded 21 points and nine rebounds, continuing her WNBA record-smashing streak of games with at least 20 points (17). Her record for most consecutive games with 25 points or more (eight) ended against the Liberty.

Kelsey Plum led the Aces (6-6) with 22 points, while Jonquel Jones recorded a career-high 34 points for the Liberty (12-2) in front of an announced crowd of 10,424 fans, a new high for the Aces’ home venue. Stewart had 14 points and 12 rebounds.

“I don’t even know why I’m crying,” Wilson said when asked about how she holds herself accountable for the team’s defensive struggles.

“But I love my teammates so much that I will take any hit. Good, bad, ugly. I’m gonna go out there and I’m gonna try to be the best,” she continued.

“It’s hard as (expletive) because there’s tons of people that will try to break you down, great teams in this league that are gonna try to come after you every single night. But when it comes to taking accountability, I have no problem with that. … It starts with me, and it’s going to always be with me, because I have 11 other women in that locker room that I need to pull greatness out of.”

The Aces have now lost as many games as they did in last year’s entire regular season (34-6), while the Liberty continue on an eight-game winning streak.

The energy was no different than a playoff environment. The audience was just as star-studded, featuring NBA stars LeBron James, John Wall, Damian Lillard and Bam Adebayo, all of whom sat next to the Aces’ bench.

James recently called Wilson the “absolute best” after she became the first player to drop at least 35 points, 10 rebounds and five steals in a game June 5 against the Dallas Wings.

Performances like that have become par for the course with Wilson. As Aces coach Becky Hammon noted postgame, no one on the team is playing “amazing” other than their passionate leader from South Carolina.

No consistency

Part of Wilson’s emotional reflection alluded to the team’s lack of stability, which Hammon called out as she sat next to her player.

“We’re not a good team because we have zero consistency,” she said.

She noted pregame that the Liberty’s starting five was “bigger and faster” than the Aces. While Liberty coach Sandy Brondello joked in response that she thinks her team is “pretty fast,” there were moments when the Aces seemed to have every attribute they needed to secure the win.

The Aces ended the first quarter down 28-20 after they struggled with perimeter defense and allowed the Liberty to finish the first quarter 7-for-8 from the 3-point line while the Aces were 2-for-9.

But the Aces trailed only by two at halftime following a run that saw Plum score seven points in the last three minutes of the second quarter.

Plum’s momentum continued into the third quarter, as she scored to give the Aces a 53-47 lead with 6:33 remaining. But they wouldn’t score again for almost five minutes, allowing the Liberty to go on a 14-0 run and maintain the lead for the remainder of the game.

More than Gray

There has been optimism about the return of point guard Chelsea Gray, who has yet to play for the Aces since Game 3 of the 2023 Finals because of a lower left leg injury. She was upgraded to questionable before Thursday’s win over the Phoenix Mercury, and her status remained the same Saturday.

Gray engaged in an extensive warmup routine, but she didn’t take the court. Hammon noted pregame that Gray is “getting close” to a return.

“Some of our problems she can’t fix, because it’s, it’s internal, it’s individual,” Hammon said.

Saturday’s matchup was indicative of that point, as the Liberty also played without their starting point guard, Courtney Vandersloot.

Hammon emphasized that the Aces’ biggest issue is their mentality, a point she has made all season.

“We’re not that hungry,” she said, adding that the team hasn’t had a competitive edge since training camp began.

The Aces next host the Seattle Storm at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Michelob Ultra Arena.

Contact Callie Lawson-Freeman at clawsonfreeman@reviewjournal.com. Follow @CallieJLaw on X.

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