New York Liberty guard Sabrina Ionescu reacts after sinking a...

New York Liberty guard Sabrina Ionescu reacts after sinking a three-pointer against the Las Vegas Aces during the first half of Game 3 of the WNBA Finals at Barclays Center on Sunday. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

It has never happened.

No WNBA team has fallen into a two-games-to-none hole in a best-of-five and escaped to win the series. Seventeen previously tried. Only one reached Game 5.

And given how well the defending champion Aces played and how poorly the Liberty played in the first two games of the WNBA Finals in Las Vegas, it looked as if the streak was bound to continue.

But as of now, the Liberty are still alive and have hope.

Their season and this year’s search for the franchise’s first WNBA title didn’t come to an end Sunday in front of a loud sellout crowd of 17,143, the largest they have ever drawn at Barclays Center.

The Liberty team that had done such good things finally showed up for the series and dealt the Aces an 87-73 loss in Game 3 — the franchise’s first win in the title round since 1999.

“We talked after those two games and we had that belief of understanding that no team has ever done what we’re trying to do now, and why not us?” Sabrina Ionescu said after her nine-point, 11-assist effort. “We believe in one another.”

So now the Liberty can aim to claim Wednesday night’s game at Barclays Center and force a winner-take-all Game 5 on Friday night in Vegas.

“I think [it was] just taking a look at ourselves and taking a look in the mirror,” Breanna Stewart said, “understanding that the basketball that we played, those two games in Vegas, wasn’t anything we were proud of, and making sure we came together even more as a team.”

Stewart contributed 20 points and 12 rebounds, but the Liberty really won this game behind their improved defense — they held the Aces to 33.3% shooting — and by getting another large game from their best player in this postseason.

Jonquel Jones delivered 27 points, eight rebounds and three blocks. The 6-6 center had her WNBA-record streak of consecutive double-doubles to open the postseason stopped at eight, but she delivered inside and out, sinking four three-pointers along the way.

“Just playing with a lot of passion and just not wanting to let the moment pass us by and have that ‘what if’ type of feeling,” Jones said.

“Those were things that I came into the game thinking about and what I used to kind of fuel me.”

The Liberty built a 14-point lead in the third quarter, but the Aces were unfazed. They cut it to 67-61 on two free throws by A’ja Wilson with 5:31 left.

But Stewart countered with an 11-foot jumper and Betnijah Laney followed with a steal, turning it into a layup to raise the margin to 71-61.

Kelsey Plum, who scored 29 points, hit a three-pointer for Las Vegas, but Laney countered with one of her own to again make it a 10-point spread.

Jones’ three-pointer gave the Liberty a 77-64 lead with 2:47 remaining, and the margin reached 17.

Aces point guard Chelsea Gray left in the final quarter with what may have been a foot injury. The details weren’t made clear afterward.

Whatever her status, Las Vegas still has to prove it can win in Brooklyn. The Aces have struck out all three times in 2023.

“It [stinks] being 0-3 here,” Wilson said, “but we’ve just got to play better, and that’s on us.”

The Liberty led by three at the break, then began the third quarter with an 8-0 burst. Courtney Vandersloot’s long jumper made it 51-40.

The lead hit 14 at 60-46 when Jones swished a 26-foot three-pointer from the right side. The Liberty took a 61-50 advantage into the fourth quarter after outscoring Las Vegas 18-10 in the third.

“We were moving the ball,” Liberty coach Sandy Brondello said, summing up the game. “We got back to our identity defensively. That creates some offensive stuff . . . We were able to get downhill, get some open looks and we made some shots.”

They also started better than they had in Game 2. Jones, Vandersloot and Ionescu nailed three-pointers in an 11-2 run, good for a 21-12 advantage.

By halftime, Jones had 18 and it was 43-40 Liberty.

Now they have a Game 4 and a chance.


Newsday LogoSUBSCRIBEUnlimited Digital AccessOnly 25¢for 5 months