Sabrina Ionescu drops 31 points as Liberty hand Aces third loss of season

The New York Liberty trounced the Las Vegas Aces in the teams’ second meeting of the regular season, winning 99-61 on Sunday at Barclays Center. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Sabrina Ionescu led the field with 31 points, 23 of them in the first half, on 12-of-19 shooting (6-of-10 from 3-point range). She added seven assists and grabbed five rebounds.
  • The Liberty out-rebounded the Aces 48-24.
  • Las Vegas beat New York 98-81 in their first meeting on June 29. The teams will play in the Commissioner’s Cup Final on Aug. 15 and then meet twice more in August.
  • The Aces still have the best record in the WNBA at 24-3. The Liberty are No. 2 at 22-6.

The Athletic’s instant analysis:

Ionescu steals the show

In what was billed as a matchup between MVP favorites, the best player on the floor was another Liberty All-Star in Ionescu. The New York guard had one of her worst games of the season in the two teams’ first meeting in June, finishing with seven points and repeatedly getting attacked defensively. Ionescu exceeded that total early in the second quarter en route to a 31-point showing. Her drive game got her going early, but it was the 3-point champion’s success from long range that allowed her team to build some separation in the second quarter.

Ionescu hit five triples in the second quarter alone, giving the Liberty a halftime lead. They would then blow the game open with a 30-9 third period, ending the drama in New York much earlier than expected. — Merchant

The Aces fall off their historic pace

Las Vegas was attempting to become just the second team in history to start a season 25-2, joining the 1998 Houston Comets. Instead, the Aces suffered their worst loss of the Becky Hammon tenure, which had previously been 31 points. They would now need to win out to set the regular-season win percentage record of .900, also held by the 1998 Comets.

Of more pressing concern is the immediate health of A’ja Wilson. The reigning MVP and DPOY took an elbow to the head in the first quarter and had to undergo concussion testing. She returned to the game but only had five more points on 1-of-9 shooting the rest of the way. Las Vegas collectively struggled from the field, shooting 32.4 percent and posting its lowest score of the season by far (the previous low had been 77), but this will all be easily forgotten if Wilson is good to go Tuesday. — Merchant

Intrigue for next week’s Commissioner’s Cup Final

This was the first of four meetings between the Liberty and the Aces this month, and the biggest one will take place next Tuesday in Las Vegas when the two teams meet in the Commissioner’s Cup Final. The blowout nature of the preseason matchup and the first regular-season meeting made it seem like that game would be the Aces’ to lose, but New York has reshaped the conversation. Jonquel Jones’ improved play over the past few weeks gives the Liberty another defender to throw at Wilson plus an offensive rebounding force, which is a particular problem when Las Vegas is also missing Candace Parker.

The two super teams finally appear to be on more equal footing, but they’ve yet to play a close game against each other yet. Perhaps the cup final will bring the excitement that the offseason promised. — Merchant

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(Photo: Wendell Cruz / USA Today)

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