The belief that the next game is the most important has never held more true than now for the Las Vegas Aces.
Las Vegas dumped the Atlanta Dream, 97-90, Tuesday, Aug. 9 from the Michelob Ultra Arena in the team’s first home game since July 23. The win means a 2-1 regular season series win for the Aces.
“It’s not going to be easy,” head coach Becky Hammon said. “Like I tell them, ‘People want to kick your butt. They are so tired of hearing your name, so tired of hearing it.’ So we’re going to get everybody’s best shot.”
With the win, Las Vegas moves within a game of the Chicago Sky for first place in the WNBA standings. Coincidentally, the Aces will host the Sky Thursday, Aug. 11 as the second installment of a three-game homestand for the team.
“We want to continue to defend our homecourt,” Hammon said. “Establish ourselves defensively, go out and play. I didn’t like our lock-in factor tonight which was why I called a quick timeout.”
Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. from the Michelob Ultra Arena and can be seen on NBATV.
Las Vegas appeared to save its best for last after putting up 35 points in the fourth quarter, on the way to winning the frame by ten points.
“I think we’re just really focused on the defensive end,” forward A’ja Wilson said. “We know we have enough talent in the locker room to take care of business on the [offensive] side but it's really hard to get going on the o-side if your defense isn’t where it needs to be.”
The defense wasn’t there at the beginning of the game as Atlanta opened the contest making all six of its first attempts. That stretch forced an early timeout from Hammon.
“What do you think I told them to do,” Hammon asked. “I can’t say what I said.”
The Dream took a three-point lead into the final 10 minutes before a 10-4 start to the quarter by the home team. Back-to-back three-pointers after a timeout pushed the run to 16-4 for the Aces.
This game featured 11 ties and 16 lead changes with no team leading by larger than nine points.
“Just happy with the way we closed in the fourth quarter,” Hammon said. “I thought we executed down-the-stretch and was finally able to get a tiny bit of separation from them. Not much, you can never really run away from that team.”
Wilson scored the first eight points of the game for Las Vegas while keeping the team alive during that hot first quarter by Atlanta. She’d go on to score 11 first quarter points behind three made threes, already a career-high from deep.
Wilson ended the game with a team-high 24 points on 7-of-18 shooting to go along with 14 rebounds for her 17th double-double of the season.
Guard Jackie Young added 11 first quarter points of her own on a perfect 4-of-4 from the field including three made three-pointers. She’d close the night with 20 points on 5-of-11 from the floor and a career-high four made threes.
“Some of it was [guard Kelsey] Plum getting downhill and getting kick outs,” Hammon said. “They just camped [forward] Naz Hillmon in the paint. So once we were able to engage that and kick that out, sometimes you’re confused on who the ‘scramble guy’ would be.”
As a team, Las Vegas shot 52% (14-of-27) from three-point range as part of a 48% (9-of-19) shooting night from the field.
Plum knocked down her first three-pointer of the game at the 8:30-mark of the third quarter. In fact, she scored six points in the first 2:30 of the second half after being limited to four points in the first half.
“You can play well and just miss shots,” she said. “I feel like we’re past the point of evaluating good or bad games based on made or missed shots. For me, I feel like I’m going to make the right play. Sometimes that can be me, sometimes that’s someone else.”
Plum even iced the game with a three-pointer that was banked in with about three and a half minutes left in regulation to put the Aces up four. She finished with 22 points and dished out a game-high eight assists.
“That was definitely an emphasis in the offseason,” she said. “Working on just creating. I think as a team, we’re a lot harder to guard when everyone is firing on all cylinders.”
Fellow guard Chelsea Gray also chipped in with 22 points on a blistering 8-of-10 from the field to go along with six assists.
Gray dazzled with a highlight reel behind-the-back pass to a waiting Plum under the basket for two points. In addition, she displayed her clutch factor getting a stepback two-point jumper to fall despite the foul early in the fourth quarter to tie the game.
It’s only the fourth time in WNBA history that four players have each scored 20 or more points.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever seen that actually,” Hammon said. “Four people with 20-plus and pretty efficient for the most part too.”
With the game tied at 28 apiece in the second quarter, Las Vegas forward Dearica Hamby went down with an apparent right knee injury. She would have to be helped off the court with the assistance of Aces’ personnel and did not return.
“I don’t have any updates on Dearica,” Hammon said. “We’ll take some pictures of it and see what’s going on. She does have quite a bit of pain walking and extending it.”