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Aces shoot their way into WNBA semifinals, sweep Mercury

Updated: Aug 20, 2022

Las Vegas guard Kelsey Plum holds the form during the Aces' game two win over the Phoenix Mercury. Photo Credit: Duna Haigler

A hot shooting night propelled the Las Vegas Aces into the WNBA Semifinals, sweeping a familiar foe along the way.

“It was about who the opponent was standing in front of us and let’s go after them,” head coach Becky Hammon said. “If it was personal for them, they didn’t let me know about it.” Las Vegas trampled the Phoenix Mercury, 117-80, Saturday, Aug. 20 from the Michelob Ultra Arena. The win secures a two-game series sweep for the Aces over the team that eliminated them from the semifinals last season.

This season, Las Vegas took all five meetings against Phoenix by an average of 20.6. This 37-point finish is the largest of any meeting as well as being the Aces largest win of the season as a whole.

In addition, Las Vegas has not lost a home game in over a month, winning its last seven outings.

“There was a stretch right before we hit our rough patch in late June-early July,” Hammon said. “We were winning some games but we weren’t playing well. We battled through that.

“There’s a way to win and there’s a way to lose. Their commitment to each other continues to grow. Like I told them at the break, ‘You guys have always had enough talent. But it’s not a talent show, it’s a five-on-five game.”

With the win, Las Vegas will get to sit back and await the winner of the Washington - Seattle series. During the regular season, the Aces were swept, 3-0, by the Mystics but took three of the four meetings against the Storm.

“Just taking it day-by-day,” forward A’ja Wilson said. “Whatever that means for you, just making sure you’re keeping your body the way it should be. Resting but at the same time, never losing sight of what we have to do to accomplish our goals.”

As the third quarter drew to a close, backup guard Riquna Williams netted the 17th Las Vegas three-pointer of the game, setting a new WNBA playoff record. The Aces now own the regular season and postseason records for made threes in a game.

“I’m glad I got one,” Wilson said with a smile. “We were just taking what the defense was giving us. It’s something that we’ve been working on. It’s something that’s a part of all of our games so for us to showcase it, I think it was just a matter of time that we can do it more consistently.”

Las Vegas players Chelsea Gray and A'ja Wilson react to an and-one basket by Wilson Saturday night. Photo Credit: Duna Haigler

It started early for the home team, as it came out and knocked down its first seven attempts from deep as part of a 10-for-10 start to the game. By the end of the first quarter, the team had made eight of its 10 three-point attempts while shooting 13-of-17 from the floor.

“Honestly, I was so mad at the defense to notice,” Hammon said. “I called an early timeout because [the Mercury] were on pace to score about 40 in the quarter.”

Guard Chelsea Gray dazzled fans with the double crossover move for a 10-point lead in the first quarter. She closed the second quarter with 15 points while the Aces set the WNBA playoff record with 11 made threes in the first half.

Gray’s best work came in the third quarter where she poured in 12 of her game-high 27 points with four made threes in the 10-minute frame.

Las Vegas guard Chelsea Gray winds up the three-point fingers after hitting her third three of the third quarter, where she drained four. Photo Credit: Duna Haigler

“Right now, as a team, we’re playing our best basketball on both ends,” she said. “You want to peak at the right time and for me individually, that’s what I’m feeling.”

Las Vegas won the third quarter 30-15 after dominating the second quarter 29-14. By the end of the contest, the Aces led by as many as 40 points.

Gray scored her 27 points on 9-of-11 shooting including 7-of-8 from downtown. She also dished out a game-high eight assists.

She was one of four Aces to score 10 or more points, followed by 22 points from guard Kelsey Plum on 6-of-10 from the field and 4-of-6 from deep.

Fellow guard Jackie Young added 15 points on a nearly perfect 5–of-6 mark from the floor with three made threes.

That trio combined for 11 of the team’s 31 assists on its 41 made field goals

“Probably my favorite stat of the night,” Hammon said. “Because it’s been our mantra all year. It’s been what I’ve been preaching to them, ‘When we share, everybody gets more.’”

Wilson was the final Las Vegas starter in double-figures, ending the night with 17 points on 7-of-9 shooting.

Once again she helped anchor a defense that settled in and committed to slowing down Phoenix guard Diamond DeShields.

“We don’t want to be trading buckets,” Hammon said. “I thought DeShields gave us problems. Once we kind of made the adjustments and locked in, I think she had two points in the second half.

“But we don’t have to take those kinds of punches.”

Phoenix guard Diamond DeShields slides in her defensive stance while guard Las Vegas guard Kelsey Plum. Photo Credit: Duna Haigler

DeShields lit Las Vegas up for 15 first quarter points on 7-of-11 from the field. The rest of the contest she was limited to six points on 2-of-5 shooting. In the first quarter of this series, DeShields compiled 24 points on 11-of-19 from the floor but was handcuffed for 15 points on 5-of-18 shooting over the remaining six quarters.

The win for the Aces closes a season filled with hard times for the Mercury.

“With Phoenix, you think of Diana and you’re thinking of BG,” Gray said. “And [BG’s] not even here. Coming into this season, it was a different dynamic from the start. They’ve had to transform how they were going to look from the beginning. Then you lose players to injuries and personal stuff [...] so the fact that they’re here, credit them for how they treated adversity.”

Phoenix played the entire season without star center Brittney Griner, who is currently serving a nine-year sentence in a Russian jail for what is being described as drug smuggling. In addition, the team also played the entire year without guard Kia Nurse, who is recovering from an ACL tear.

Furthermore, the Mercury have been without star guards Diana Taurasi and Skylar Diggins-Smith since late in the regular season for various reasons. Taurasi has been out dealing with a quad injury while Diggins-Smith stepped away for “personal reasons.”

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