The Las Vegas Aces returned home for the first time since late May and appeared to be fully refreshed coming off the heels of a four-game road trip that saw the team lose its first game of the season.
Las Vegas rebounded from that loss with a, 93-80, win over Chicago Sunday, June 11 from the Michelob Ultra Arena on Kids Day to improve to 8-1 on the year. Through nine games this season, the Aces have only played three from “The House.”
“It’s really just about getting back to our identity [and] who we want to be,” head coach Becky Hammon said. “That was really it. Like I told them, ‘I could’ve clipped the whole game at Connecticut and we could’ve watched the whole thing through. But some of those games, it’s best to hit on two or three big points and then move on.”
Including the team’s most recent outing, eight of the next nine games for Las Vegas will be played from the Michelob Ultra Arena. Sunday’s contest against the Sky marked the start of a three-game homestand for the defending champs.
The homestand will continue Thursday, June 15 as the Seattle Storm will head to town. In the first game of the year for both teams, the Aces defeated the Storm by 41 points.
“It’s going to take time,” forward Candace Parker said. “The goal is to win and that’s why I came here so I think it’s just moving [on], learning my teammates and moving on continuing to get better. We’re not playing for a championship right now.”
One offseason removed from leaving Chicago in free agency, Parker led the spark as her new team demolished a hungry Sky team. Parker spent two years in Chicago while also helping the franchise to capture its first and only championship in 2021.
“It’s good to see everybody,” she said. “It was especially good to get back to Vegas, I think just in terms of playing at home, it’s been fun in the first three home games with the energy and I can build off of that.”
Parker then admitted that she expects Las Vegas’ scheduled trip to Chicago in late-July to “feel different.”
To open this meeting, Parker scored four straight points early in the game’s opening quarter before getting a steal on the other end and finishing it off with an assist to guard Chelsea Gray on a made three-pointer. At that point, the Aces had raced out to a 9-2 lead.
By the end of the first quarter, Parker had tallied four points, four rebounds, an assist and a steal in six minutes of action. She finished with 10 points, six rebounds, seven assists and five steals.
“The goodness of this team is I have time to find my rhythm,” Parker said. “I’m not worried about it, I think it will come in time. I think defensively, just as much as offensively is finding that rhythm as well and learning everybody so that’s my mentality.”
Las Vegas eventually built a lead as large as 29 points in this one while never allowing Chicago to hold the lead. In addition, the Aces shot a season-high 59% from the field which was bolstered by a 71% shooting mark in the first half.
After having a less-than-stellar three-point showing on the road, Las Vegas chose to refrain from early chucking from deep, shooting just four in the first near 15 minutes of action. As a result, the Aces eventually won the points in the paint battle, 50-28.
“We want to be dominant on both ends in the paint,” Hammon said. “A lot of those [points] probably came in transition too [...] We have different ways that we can beat you in the paint. We haven’t shot as many threes as I’d like but I like layups too.”
Forward A’ja Wilson led all Las Vegas scorers with 21 points on 8-of-15 from the field to go along with 10 rebounds for her fifth double-double of the season. En route to her team-leading performance, Wilson didn’t score her first field goal of the game until more than nine minutes into the first quarter.
Gray added 19 points to go along with two steals while fellow guard Kelsey Plum recorded 16 of her own. Both Gray and Plum combined to shoot 15-of-22 from the floor including four made threes.
“I don’t know that [Plum’s] hunger is new,” Hammon said. “That’s been in her probably since birth. I think her playmaking ability – I think she’s been labeled as just a microwave scorer. To be honest, she hasn’t shot the three well yet this year but if you’re gameplanning against her you’re terrified of it. Nobody wants to let Kelsey Plum shoot wide-open shots.”
Fellow starting guard Jackie Young added 14 points to round out the day’s double-digit scorers for Las Vegas.
While the shooting performance was the best of the season for this Aces group, it was the defense that once again made the difference. Las Vegas forced back-to-back turnovers with just over two minutes left in the first half to extend a 12-point lead to a game-high 16 points at the time.
“That’s how we get our buckets on the other side,” Wilson said. “We play out of our defense. When you look at those games across the board, when we’re playing well on the defensive end the offense is clicking – it’s moving and we’re grooving.”
As a team, the Aces forced the Sky into 13 turnovers, 10 of which were steals. Moreover, Las Vegas turned those 13 turnovers into 19 points the other way.
In addition, the Aces outrebounded their opponent, 33-27. Prior to this outcome, Las Vegas had been outrebounded in each of the team’s last five contests.
“It just has to be an intentional mindset,” Hammon said. “Rebounding is a mindset. It’s attention to detail, it’s being alert and being aware. It was good to see us lock in on that end.”