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Aces return to win column while still struggling to close

Las Vegas Aces guard Kelsey Plum completes a layup through New York's defense from the Barclays Center. Photo Credit: Las Vegas Aces

After building an early lead, Las Vegas had to fight off another feverous run late in the team’s first contest since returning from the All-Star break.

The Aces beat the New York Liberty, 107-101, Tuesday, July 12 from the Barclays Center.

“Good first half for us, bad first half for them,” head coach Becky Hammon said. “Then you just flip the script. They put together a heck of a second half so give them credit.”

New York beat Las Vegas in both team’s final showing prior to the All-Star break, winning 116-107. That marked the fifth loss in the last seven contests before this win.

“Once again, my team is going to have to figure out how it's going to take a hit and maintain without losing all control,” Hammon said. “Figuring out how to stop the bleeding so it doesn’t turn into a landslide.”

This season’s Aces are 4-5 against Eastern Conference teams.

Overall, Las Vegas is 16-7 and currently sit in the first spot in the Western Conference. The Seattle Storm are the next closest, sitting a half game back.

“Becky talked about setting the tone post-All-Star break,” guard Kelsey Plum said. “We’ve still yet to string together fourth quarters of really good basketball.We’ve done it in a half, we’ve done it in a quarter but we haven’t done it consecutively for four quarters.”

Two more games remain on this three-game road trip for the Aces with another matchup with the Liberty next.

That game will take place Thursday, July 14 from the Barclays Center with tip-off scheduled for 8 a.m. PST.

Las Vegas rode the wave of a strong defensive first half that saw the team take a 24-point lead into halftime.

It began with a dominant first quarter that saw the road team go up by as many as 14 points.

However, it was a defensive effort that stymied New York to just 12 second quarter points.

“The third quarter is the one that bothers me,” Hammon said. “I could feel it the first play, like, I just felt it coming.” It reared its ugly head right away as 54 seconds into the second half, Hammon was assessed a technical foul.

Liberty guard Sabrina Ionescu scored her sixth point of the game on that technical foul free throw.

To that point, she was 2-for-8 with no make from three-point range on her three attempts.

Last outing, Ionescu lit up the Aces for the first 30-point triple-double in league history.

“We tried to make her give it up,” Hammon said. “That’s always frustrating when you’re used to having the ball in your hands all the time.”

New York would knock down four consecutive threes in the third quarter to cut the Las Vegas lead down to eight points.

Las Vegas forward A'ja Wilson looks to make a move against New York's Natasha Howard. Photo Credit: Las Vegas Aces.

“We can’t come out and play on both ends of the basketball like that and expect for it to be an easy win,” forward A’ja Wilson said. “No matter who we’re playing against. And when it comes to New York, they’re going to keep playing. We can’t let up at all.”

Ionescu didn’t knock down her first trey ball until about midway through the fourth quarter after missing her first four attempts.

With 28.5 seconds left in regulation, she drained another one to cut it down to four.

“Some of those shots at the end,” Hammon said. “Those were just Stephen Curry-type shots. Somebody in your grill and they made shots.

“We did a box-and-one, we mixed it up. I think that’s the key with any great player, you just have to mix up the looks and keep them off-balance.”

Ionescu finished with 27 points on 9-of-17 shooting.

Las Vegas drained free throws down-the-stretch en route to a 34-for-35 night from the charity stripe.

“I don’t think we did a very good job closing today,” Plum said. “We had a big lead and took our foot off the gas. They scored what? 70 points in the second half? That’s embarrassing. We kind of sucked.”

Plum stayed in MVP form following her 30-point performance in the annual All-Star Game that captured her MVP award honors.

“It’s hard to take people off the floor when you have a couple of people rolling,” Hammon said. “I thought Kelsey was rolling and it’s hard to take her out when she’s just hit a few even though I would like to get her some rest.” Plum had it going from the jump, converting on an and-one with 39.2 second left in the first quarter. Less than 25 seconds later, she knocked down a three to reach double-digit scoring in the first quarter.

Her third three of the game came in the third quarter and stretched the Las Vegas lead back to 23 points.

Plum finished tied for the game-high with 27 points on 9-of-18 from the field with three rebounds and three assists in 34 minutes.

“If I’m keeping it real, I complained last year about not playing enough minutes,” she said with a smile. “So I’d be a hypocrite to be like, ‘Oh Becky, I can’t handle it.’”

Wilson had a double-double with 23 points on 7-of-13 from the floor including a perfect 9-for-9 from the free throw line to go along with 14 rebounds.

“Down the stretch, I thought my team executed well and made free throws – big free throws,” Hammon said. “On the road, that’s never easy. So that’s some progress for us actually, if you’ve been actually watching any of our games.”

Guard Jackie Young also poured in 23 points on 7of-13 shooting, also going perfect from the line, albeit 8-for-8.

“She’s put in the work so she has supreme confidence at the end of the game,” Hammon said. “She’s big, she’s strong, she’s typically not turnover prone so I wanted it in her hands.”

Aces guard Jackie Young drives past the Liberty's Rebecca Allen during her 23-point performance recently. Photo Credit: Las Vegas Aces.


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