The Las Vegas Aces escaped from its most recent outing by the slimmest of margins to extend its winning streak.
Las Vegas slid by Minnesota, 96-95, Sunday, June 19 from the Michelob Ultra Arena in a Father’s Day/Juneteenth matchup.
The Aces beat the Lynx by six points back in May in the same building.
“That game could’ve gone either way really,” head coach Becky Hammon said. “We’re fortunate to be the ones on top.”
The now four-game win streak sends Las Vegas to a 13-2 overall record, best in the WNBA.
Currently, the team sits three and a half games up on Seattle in the Western Conference and are a game and a half better than Connecticut for the league’s best mark.
“We can always use these experiences to build toughness,” Hammon said. “We need to be in these kinds of situations. I think that’s how you get battle-tested.”
The Aces continue their three-game homestand Tuesday, June 21 when it hosts the defending champion, Chicago Sky.
Back in late May, Las Vegas got away with a seven-point win back in Chicago.
This meeting with Minnesota produced 14 lead changes and 13 ties, nine of each in the second half.
“I will say they are a competitive group,” Hammon said. “This team is good, it’s my job to get us to be great. It’s not going to be easy every night. We need to be in these dogfights so that we can build some resiliency.” After a closely contested first quarter, Las Vegas fell behind in the second quarter on the heels of a 14-4 run from the road team.
Before long, the Lynx were up 11 points, its largest lead of the first half.
“We got ourselves in a hole and had to dig out,” Hammon said. “I thought Minnesota played very well. I think [its] a lot better than [its] record would indicate.”
The largest deficit of the night was 14 for the Aces before another game-changing run in the third quarter.
The deficit trickled all the way down to one point before a three-pointer from guard Jackie Young gave the home team its first lead of the second half.
At that point, Las Vegas was riding a 20-7 scoring run dating back to the second quarter before ultimately winning the 34-24.
“You’re going to have nights where the ball doesn’t go in,” Hammon said. “But you’ve got to be able to maintain and rely on your defense.”
The tensions rose in the fourth quarter when Minnesota’s Aerial Powers laid a hard foul on guard Kelsey Plum and proceeded to stand over her. Plum quickly rose to her feet as the two had two be separated by teammates.
“Have you seen her play?” Hammon asked about Plum. “She talks the whole time, I’m not surprised she jumped up. She’s not going to let anybody do that to her.”
Late in regulation, guard Chelsea Gray broke down Lynx guard Kayla McBride with a behind-the-back crossover before finding forward Dearica Hamby for a three-pointer.
That shot put the team up five points with under 16 seconds to play.
“I’m watching her just like you are,” Hammon said about Gray. “She is a pick-and-roll professor, she just sees things – she does things that you can’t teach.”
Gray finished with 16 points, eight assists and six rebounds. Hamby recorded 16 points, five rebounds and three steals.
Minnesota had a chance to tie late but forward Jessica Shepard opted to go for two points instead of three as time expired. After the game, she admitted to not realizing it was a three-point game.
The finish came after Las Vegas committed three turnovers in the first 3:08 of the game and failed to commit another until the final 5:24 of regulation.
“Well, it gives you a chance to stay in the game,” Hammon said. “In a game that you struggled to make shots. In a game that you’re struggling to get stops on the other end, you definitely have to take care of the ball.” The Aces committed six total turnovers while forcing the Lynx into 10 on the other side. In addition, the home team outscored the visitors, 20-3 in the fast break department.
All five of the Las Vegas starters scored in double-figures however, two of which struggled at the early going.
Plum and Young combined to start the game 1-of-10 from the field. In fact, Young didn’t score her first points until the 3:15 mark of the second quarter.
“I just wanted to make sure that she knew that I still have confidence in her,” Hammon said. “It’s not about anything other than putting the ball in her hands at the end of the game and ‘go make the right decision.’”
Young finished with 13 points on 5-of-15 shooting.
Plum heated up in the fourth quarter along with former league MVP A’ja Wilson.
The former scored 13 of her 21 points in the third quarter while the latter chipped in with nine of her game-high 25 points.
Wilson also added a highlight reel play late in the fourth when she got the steal on the defensive end before sealing a three-pointer on the other end to put the Aces up seven. Wilson and Hamby combined to go a perfect 4-of-4 from three-point range.
“Shooters gone shoot always,” Wilson said with a smile. “It’s the Splash Sisters. The [Golden State] Warriors have Steph [Curry] and Klay but the Aces got Dearica and A’ja. I’m shooting what, above 50% from three this year.”