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MVP candidates, title contenders and $500K: Liberty, Lynx meet in Commissioner’s Cup final


One brought back all its key players. The other brought in key pieces. The results have brought both to the 2024 WNBA Commissioner’s Cup final.

The New York Liberty, with everyone back from last season’s WNBA runner-up finish, host the Minnesota Lynx on Tuesday in New York (8 p.m. ET, Prime Video). Due to a conflict with the NBA draft at the Liberty’s normal home, Barclays Center in Brooklyn, the game will be played at UBS Arena, about 20 miles east on Long Island. The Liberty are the defending Cup champions, beating the Las Vegas Aces on the road in last year’s final.

New York (15-3) and Minnesota (13-3) sit at the top of the WNBA standings, along with the Connecticut Sun (13-3), and they are near the top of the WNBA in most statistical categories. They’re in the top two in overall field goal percentage, 3-point percentage and 3-pointers per game. But both teams are also good defensively, so Tuesday should be a matchup of strengths vs. strengths.

“Both teams value that, that’s how the teams are built,” Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeve said of 3-point shooting. “Our [3-point defense] is the best it’s been in years, so we hope that holds true on Tuesday. And that we make the opportunities we get from 3. It could be the thing that decides the game: Our ability to make 3s and defend the 3.”

Reeve and New York’s Sandy Brondello also are the coaches for the U.S. and Australian Olympic women’s basketball teams, respectively. And there will be several Olympians on the court as well, including Minnesota’s Napheesa Collier and New York’s Breanna Stewart and Sabrina Ionescu for the U.S. team.

The Lynx have won four WNBA championships (2011, ’13, ’15, ’17), but this is their first appearance in the final of the Commissioner’s Cup, which started in 2021. The Liberty, an original WNBA franchise, are still seeking their elusive first WNBA title, so getting the Commissioner’s Cup trophy last season meant a lot to the franchise.

Minnesota won the first meeting of the season between these teams, 84-67 in Minneapolis on May 25. Tuesday’s game and statistics don’t count for the regular season, but with $500,000 in prize money and a trophy on the line, the Lynx and Liberty have a lot to play for. What do we expect from the game?

Has Minnesota or New York had the better start to the season?

Pelton: Although Connecticut also has just three losses, Minnesota (plus-10.7) and New York (plus-9.7) have been the WNBA’s two best teams by point differential. According to ESPN’s Basketball Power Index, the Liberty have faced a slightly more difficult schedule. The Lynx have benefited from playing 10 of their 16 games at home, including their win in the lone head-to-head matchup thus far. Minnesota has also taken advantage of opponents shooting just 27% from 3, the worst mark in the league. So although the Lynx have improved dramatically on defense, maintaining the WNBA’s best defense might be a challenge. Based on those factors, I’m going to say New York.

Voepel: On paper, the Liberty’s roster stands out more with two former MVPs in Stewart and Jonquel Jones, plus two No. 1 draft picks in Stewart and Ionescu. All three have played well to begin the season. But which team’s start has been the most impressive?

Minnesota, in part because most observers didn’t project it to play this well together this early. Collier was a unanimous pick for first-team WNBA in our preseason projections, but there was uncertainty about the team around her. The Lynx don’t see it that way; they were confident all along. But watching how well guard Kayla McBride has played in her 11th WNBA season — she leads the WNBA at 3.3 3-pointers per game — plus what appears to be the almost seamless integration of Courtney Williams and Alanna Smith, has been enlightening for most of us.

Who will get the better of the matchup of MVP candidates and former UConn stars Collier and Stewart?

Voepel: Collier is averaging 20.9 points, 10.4 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 2.3 steals, 1.4 blocks and is shooting 45.8% from the field. Stewart’s numbers: 19.7, 8.6, 4.0, 2.2, 1.4 and 48.1%. Statistically, they are a lot alike. Stewart has struggled more than usual from behind the arc, shooting a career-low 25.3% there. Collier’s 31.4% from long range is in line with her career percentage of 31.8. The reality is that Collier doesn’t have a fellow post player who is the caliber of Jones for New York. But what the Lynx have shown so far is an ability for the supporting cast to collectively play well around Collier.

Stewart is coming off an excellent weekend in which she had 50 points, 11 rebounds, 13 assists, 6 steals and 8 blocks in victories over the Sparks and the Dream in back-to-back games. In her two games last week, Collier had 39 points and 22 rebounds. These are two uber-elite post players. Collier might need to play just a little better than Stewart for the Lynx to win this game.

Pelton: With Sunday’s game, Stewart surpassed Collier as the second-best player in my wins above replacement player metric so far this season, although Collier still leads on a per-game basis. McBride is just behind them.

It’s encouraging to see Stewart shooting the 3 well again lately (9-of-18 over the past week) after a slump that extended back into the 2023 playoffs, when she shot 20% beyond the arc. Before then, Stewart had been the surest bet in the WNBA in big games, including a pair of Commissioner’s Cup wins and an MVP in the inaugural game in 2021. Based on that experience, I favor Stewart on Tuesday.

What can each team get from this game?

Voepel: The Lynx can show they are just as much of a WNBA title contender as anyone else. I think they’ve already proven that so far in the regular season, but this would be another statement win. As Kevin mentioned, they have done the best job in limiting opponents from behind the arc this season. It will be especially impressive if they can do that to a team as good at 3-point shooting as the Liberty. The Lynx also are No. 1 in the WNBA in assists per game (24.0), with Williams (5.5) leading the way.

As for the Liberty, they are second in assists (23.4 per game) even though they haven’t had Courtney Vandersloot the past eight games as she dealt with the death of her mother. But in her absence, Ionescu has kept the ball moving well for New York. She is averaging a career-best 6.7 assists. New York came into this season with higher external expectations than the Lynx, considering the Liberty were runner-up in the WNBA Finals last season. But they enter this final feeling they have something to prove, too, and wanting to defend their Cup title.

Pelton: Given the financial stakes, New York will be plenty motivated, but I think there’s a lot more for Minnesota to gain here. The Lynx have reached the semifinals just once since their last of four WNBA championships in 2017, and that came in an empty arena as part of the Wubble in 2020.

Given that track record, this might be the most intense atmosphere of Collier’s WNBA career. Win or lose, the Lynx will benefit from the experience as they prepare for what looks like it should be a much longer playoff run this year.

Which team is your pick to win?

Voepel: I give a slight edge to New York being “at home,” even if it is in a different arena than it normally plays in. If the Liberty have back Betnijah Laney-Hamilton — she has missed the past three games with a knee injury — and/or Vandersloot, that will be an emotional boost, too, for New York. But the Liberty are going to have to match the Lynx’s hunger to get this title. We might not have started this season saying this was the matchup we most expected in the Cup final, but it’s the one everyone wants to watch now.

Pelton: New York needs Laney-Hamilton to be clearly favored in this game. Remember, the Liberty’s bench — highlighted by 17 points from Marine Johannes, who is preparing for the Olympics with the French national team and not on New York’s roster right now — was key to last year’s victory in Las Vegas. With Vandersloot, Laney-Hamilton and Nyara Sabally all out lately, New York’s depth has been stretched. The Liberty haven’t needed Laney-Hamilton against weaker competition but will against Minnesota.

Assuming Laney-Hamilton is able to return, I’d favor New York to become the first home team to win the Commissioner’s Cup in the three years it has been hosted by the top team in group play.


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