Aces lose game one, home court advantage by three points
With things not going their way, the Las Vegas Aces still had a chance to tie the game with less than three seconds left, only to have that miss resemble the majority of the struggles on the night.
“I thought we played tight,” head coach Becky Hammon said. “Especially in the first quarter. We played tight. We played like the world was on our shoulders.”
Las Vegas dropped game one, 76-73, to the Seattle Storm Sunday, Aug. 28 from the Michelob Ultra Arena in front of a record sellout crowd. It marked the second time in six meetings this year that the Aces were beaten by the Storm and the first since June 29.
“I don’t know if I felt weight,” guard Chelsea Gray said. “There were times where we were passive and settling for outside jumpers on possessions where we could get into the paint.”
The loss means Seattle now owns the home court advantage in this best-of-five semifinal series.
Game two is set to take place Wednesday, Aug. 31 from the Michelob Ultra Arena. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.
Guard Kelsey Plum missed a three-pointer that would’ve tied things at 76 apiece with 2.9 seconds left in regulation.
“It’s a natural shot,” Gray said. “She just missed it. We did a flare screen, back-pick, open shot – you make some, you [miss] some. She’ll knock them down normally so it’s alright.”
Plum also missed a hanging two-pointer in the lane at the third quarter buzzer that would’ve cut the deficit to a point.
Las Vegas found itself with a chance to tie late despite falling behind big in the first quarter.
“Didn’t come out of the gates the way we wanted to,” Hammon said. “Giving up 26 [points] in the first quarter and then basically digging out of a hole the rest of the game. After that we beat them by five, by five and then we tied in the fourth quarter.”
The Aces were able to force eight straight Storm misses from the field coming out of a timeout with 6:36 left in the first frame.
Plum didn’t make her first bucket until the 7:19-mark of the second quarter as part of back-to-back makes from here. At the 2:44-mark, she drained her first three-pointer.
She ended the night with 20 points on 8-of-23 shooting including a 2-for-10 finish from three.
As a team, Las Vegas shot 6-of-23 from deep.
“We didn’t shoot the ball well tonight,” Hammon said. “Sometimes, it just comes down to making shots at the end of the game.”
Rookie forward Iliana Rupert knocked down the first trey for the team with 2:36 left in the first quarter. Reserve guard Riquna Williams added another one with 6:09 to go in the fourth quarter to give the Aces their first lead of the game, 65-64.
Both Rupert and Williams accounted for half of the team’s three-point makes going, 3-for-6, while the starters combined to shoot 3-of-17.
Seattle also kept Las Vegas from what it does best, scoring in transition.
“They have a lot of really great players,” Hammon said. “They read a lot, they switched. That’s a seasoned team, that team has won championships together. They start four Olympians. They’re a really good team.” The Storm outscored the Aces, 16-0 in the fast break category.
Whether the Seattle chances came after a long miss or one of the 11 Las Vegas turnovers, the No. 4 seed made sure to make good use of it. The Aces lost the points off turnover battle, 19-9.
In addition, the team was also out-rebounded 37-34 including seven to four on the offensive end.
“The more frustrating point, as a coach, is the things that we had talked [about],” Hammon said. “They end up beating us on the boards, that’s an area we wanted to win. Then taking care of the ball.
“Eleven turnovers doesn’t seem like much but for 19 points that’s hard when you’re playing a possession-by-possession game like it is in the playoffs.”
Gray led the team in scoring with 21 points on 9-of-15 from the field to go along with five assists.
“She’s just the steady in the storm,” Hammon said. “She’s cool, calm and collected. You know she’s going to get a good look.”
Gray scored the final four points of the first half for the Aces after the Storm went on a 5-0 run to push the lead to nine.
Fellow guard Jackie Young added 11 points and another five assists.
Forward A’ja Wilson struggled to the tune of eight points on 3-of-10 shooting to go along with 12 rebounds.
“They really swarmed her,” Hammon said. “Every time she touched the ball. She had a great pass out to Kelsey on the one kick-out. When they’re going to send bodies like that, you’ve got to be strong with the ball and the ball has to stay moving.”
After dropping 38 points in the last meeting between these two teams, Seattle guard Jewell Loyd added 26 more in this one. She scored 17 points in the second half including 10 in the fourth quarter.
“I don’t know,” Hammon said when asked how to slow down Loyd. “If I had the key, I’d use it. If you have any ideas, hit me.”