A'ja Wilson emotional after sliding Aces fall in Finals rematch

June 15, 2024, 8:29 PM

LAS VEGAS -- The Las Vegas Aces lost their sixth game of 2024 on Saturday -- as many as they lost in the entire 2023 regular season -- as the New York Liberty prevailed 90-82 in a rematch of last year's WNBA Finals teams before a packed house that included LeBron James at courtside.

Afterward, Las Vegas star A'ja Wilson got emotional talking about what she needs to do to help the two-time defending WNBA champion Aces out of a lull in which they've lost five of their past seven.

"It's hard. I love my teammates so much," a teary-eyed Wilson said. "[People] say I'm the best player in the world. That's great. But I want to be the best person. I want to be the best teammate, because that's how I get the best out of my team.

"So when it comes to wins and losses ... I break this game down piece by piece because I want to be great for my team ... great for this franchise. It is hard as s---. Great teams in this league that are going to try to come after you every single night. But when it comes to taking accountability, I have no problem in that. Because I want to be great."

Wilson, the WNBA's leader in scoring (28.0) and rebounding (11.5), had 21 points, 8 rebounds and 3 assists Saturday. But the Liberty won behind center Jonquel Jones, who had a career-high 34 points, along with eight rebounds. Sabrina Ionescu added 15 points and 12 assists and Breanna Stewart had 14 points and 12 rebounds as the Liberty moved to 12-2 this season.

Jones went 12-of-16 from the floor, including 4-of-5 from behind the arc as the Liberty made 12 3-pointers.

"That's the main thing, keeping the defense honest," said Jones, who was the 2021 WNBA MVP while with the Connecticut Sun. "Understanding there are different levels I can attack the game from. That was my mindset: just playing and having fun."

The Liberty have won eight in a row and sit just behind Connecticut, 12-1, in the WNBA standings. New York handed the Sun their only defeat this season.

Last year, the Liberty beat the Aces in the Commissioner's Cup final for the in-season title but then fell to the Aces 3-1 in the WNBA Finals.

New York is without point guard Courtney Vandersloot, who has missed the past four games for personal reasons, but the team still had 21 assists to 8 turnovers Saturday. Jones said that even in Vandersloot's absence, the Liberty are clicking.

"That's the beautiful thing about chemistry," Jones said. "When you start to get to that level, it really does feel seamless."

That's exactly what things were like most of last season for the Aces. But with point guard Chelsea Gray still out after the foot injury she suffered in the WNBA Finals Game 3 in October, the Aces have not been themselves in 2024.

Las Vegas coach Becky Hammon has not given a definitive timeline for Gray to return. As much as Hammon is looking forward to that, she also said the Aces' issues are not all because of Gray's absence.

"When you see her, you see her. She's getting close," Hammon said. "We're trying to get ourselves right before she comes back. Because the stuff that I think are some of our problems, she can't fix. It's internal, it's individuals. So let's get our house in order.

"Our defense has been so bad, we've been forced to play a half-court offense -- which is tough without a true point guard. You've got to match [other teams'] energy and emotion and desire to beat you. I've not been pleased with [our defense]. There's nothing new that I'm asking them to do. Defense is 95% effort and trying hard."

Wilson, a two-time WNBA MVP, said a lack of consistency has been a big issue for the Aces. Though it hasn't been an issue for Wilson individually, she said she still must lead the way for the team to improve in that area.

"Everybody can be good here and there," Wilson said. "But who can be great, every single game, every possession? That's what I'm striving for. I promise you, I'm not going to back down. 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.

"I want them to be great. Not just for rings and banners but because I know the potential that we have in our locker room. You're going to still see me smiling and dancing because I never want anyone to see us break. Obviously, I'm crying now, but it's a part of it. I'm not going to sit up here and act like it's roses. It's hard, but I'm not going to back down ever."