A big second half helped the Las Vegas Aces avoid disaster as they held off the Dallas Wings, 85-75, Monday, Sept. 13 from Michelob Ultra Arena.
“I keep saying to the players, ‘Nothing is easy,’” head coach Bill Laimbeer said. “This league is too good -- there’s too many good teams, too many good players.”
It was the last regular season home game for Las Vegas as it ended with a 13-3 home record with two more road games left to play.
The Aces will now head to the road for a Friday, Sept. 17 matchup with the Chicago Sky.
“I told them, ‘This was a playoff game,’” Laimbeer said. “We’re going for the second seed, which is very important. Getting the third seed is fine but now our task is we have two games on the road and we have to win one.”
The game was rescheduled for noon with the Las Vegas Raiders set to take on the Baltimore Ravens in the first Monday Night Football game of the 2021 season.
“Very, very, very few franchises would move a game from an evening game to a noon game on a Monday,” Laimbeer said with a smile. “We did it and we were successful at having fans in the stands. This is a big testament to our fan base in Las Vegas.
“I know tonight’s the first real game at [Allegiant Stadium], we did our part winning game one. It’s up to his other team to do part two, I have no control over that one.”
Despite not having the most extensive knowledge of football, forward A’ja Wilson expressed her excitement for the second game of the double header as she entered the post game press conference wearing Raiders shorts.
Las Vegas (22-8) clinched at least the third spot in the WNBA but will still need one more win to secure a double-bye as the No. 2 seed.
A third quarter run changed the complexion of the game as a 20-6 run for the Aces sent the Wings reeling.
“We didn’t have the energy in the first half or at least most of the first half,” Laimbeer said. “That happens to us sometimes. But in the second half, Plum gave us all the energy in the world that we needed.”
Dallas jumped out to an early lead behind a fiery shooting start led by guard Arike Ogunbowale.
“Arike is one of the best scorers in this league,” Plum said. “Really you’re not going to limit her from getting her shots and things like that but you just have to make it tough. I think in the beginning of the game, there was a lot of miscommunication and she got some open looks and she’s too good to get open looks so we tried to make things difficult for her in the second half and speed her up.”
The Wings scored 29 points in the first half on 63% shooting and would head into the locker room at halftime making 50% of their shots.
“Give Dallas credit, they didn’t come here to lose,” Laimbeer said. “They came in launching three balls in the first half without a care in the world. A lot of circus shots went in but when you play like that, good things happen for you. Is that sustainable for a whole game? Not very often.”
Plum discussed the level of calmness the team still felt despite falling behind by as many as 13 points in the first half.
“We just had to get stops,” Plum said. “They had almost 30 points in the first quarter -- that’s way too much -- especially on home court. And they were scoring on the same actions so we were not communicating, not following the [scouting report] and it was just a lack of focus really.”
According to Laimbeer, the game changed when his team’s effort on defense changed.
“We made a couple of defensive adjustments,” he said. “They made quality three-ball looks, we took those away [...] But then we just started keeping the pressure on them defensively and they didn’t make the shots. That’s the way basketball works: the harder you play defense the less successful the other team is. We made some adjustments but it was effort, more than anything else.”
The offense wasn’t bad either as Plum scored 26 of her 30 points in the second half including 13 third quarter points.
She was two points away from tying her career-high which she set earlier this season against New York.
“This has been coming for her -- she’s a quality player, there’s no question about it, No. 1 pick in the [20170 draft,” Laimbeer said. “Her game has grown every year to the point where she has more confidence in what she can get accomplished on the floor.”
This season, Plum has been regulated to the sixth woman role for Las Vegas and she has embraced approaching the game from a different angle.
Laimbeer explained when he gave Plum her new role, she fully accepted the challenge full-speed ahead.
When asked how long it took for her to get comfortable in her new role, Laimbeer said, “About 10 seconds after I told her. She knows the game of basketball, she knows why I did it. And not all people have to agree with the decisions that a coach makes but at the same time they have to respect it and go out there and do their job and she has all year long.”
With her team down 51-41, Plum finished an and-one layup and converted the free throw as part of 11 straight points down-the-stretch, cutting the deficit to two points.
A three-pointer from guard Riquna Williams tied it at 55 before the Aces took a 57-55 lead. It was their first lead since 4-2 in the first quarter.
The three-point shot wasn’t falling early for Las Vegas, going 1-of-7 in the first half, but in the second half it found its stroke, making 6-of-12.
Plum made back-to-back threes in the fourth quarter to put the Aces up nine.
“In the first half it was tough,” Plum said. “[The Wings] were taking away transition, we weren’t getting the stops we needed to push it. I think sometimes on this team the ball will find you at certain points and then it’ll go away from you because we have so much talent. You just have to be patient and be ready but you never know when that time will come.”
On the other side, Ogunbowale went cold after her fast start.
Ogunbowale was held to seven points on 3-of-13 shooting in the second half after scoring 23 points in the first half.
Her frustration began to boil over in the fourth quarter as she was lifted from the game with 7:40 left and her team down four, after flirting with a possible technical foul after slamming the basketball at halfcourt.
She would later return and finish the game for Dallas.
Former San Antonio Stars guard Becky Hammon had her No. 25 jersey retired at halftime by the Las Vegas Aces franchise.
Hammon played the final eight seasons of her 16-year career in San Antonio.
She averaged 15.6 points per game and 5.1 assists per game in her time with the Stars.
It’s great because Becky is doing things that a lot of young girls are dreaming of,” Wilson said. “And for her to be honored in our building, being the first jersey to be up there, this is big. So we’re so happy for her and glad that she could be here and let us celebrate her.”
Hammon is the first jersey to be raised to the rafters of the Michelob Ultra Arena.