On a night where the Las Vegas Aces got their championship rings for last year’s title run and raised a banner to the rafters, the team still managed to put the beatdown on the Los Angeles Sparks to remain undefeated to start the season.
Las Vegas opened its home slate with a 93-65 win over Los Angeles from the Michelob Ultra Arena Saturday, May 27. The Aces have now won 12 straight games against the Sparks.
“Like [head coach Becky Hammon said], ‘We showed our identity today and what we’re capable of,” forward A’ja Wilson said. “We had our dropoffs sometimes – what game doesn’t – but I’m very proud of how we showed ourselves today on top of a lot of distractions we had going on.”
After serving a two-game suspension, Hammon made her return to the sidelines for Las Vegas. In the pregame ceremony, Hammon picked up the first championship ring of her 25 year career in the WNBA and NBA.
“It’s hard to look at those rings and not understand that [the accomplishment is] real,” Hammon said. “It was an unbelievable crowd, unbelievable moment. I’m obviously really happy for that team, our whole 2022 team, all the members. It was a special run.”
The Aces’ banner that commemorates last year’s championship run was revealed and now sits next to Hammon’s No. 25 San Antonio Stars jersey, the lone jersey retired by the franchise.
“I didn’t even know they were going to hang it right there,” Hammon said. “But I will say, it looks very lovely next to it. They need some neighbors though, some other jersey will be up there eventually I know – and championship banners, hopefully.”
This year’s Las Vegas team is off to a 3-0 start after this most recent win which serves as the first of a back-to-back. The Aces will host the Minnesota Lynx from The House Sunday, May 27 with tip-off slated for 6 p.m.
“I want to get another ring,” Wilson said. “Not necessarily defending it or going back-to-back, I just want to go and approach it the same way I approached my first one and I think that goes the same for all of us.”
At one point of the postgame press conference, Wilson used the word “dynasty” when describing the type of culture the team is attempting to build.
Las Vegas used a strong defensive first quarter to take a stranglehold of the game and would never relinquish it. Two days ago against the same Sparks team, the Aces forced 11 turnovers but would come up with seven steals for seven turnovers in the first quarter of this contest. By halftime, Los Angeles had 11 turnovers on the way to 19 for the game.
“It was a little bit of [having just seen the Sparks] and just being locked in on the defensive end,” guard Jackie Young said. “Getting stops, getting deflections, I mean [the coaches] prepare us. We watch film, we go over [the opponent’s] plays but for us we just need to be locked in on the defensive end.”
By the end of the game, Las Vegas had tallied 16 steals and eight blocks. The team’s defensive effort netted the team 25 fast break points on the other end versus just three points for Los Angeles.
More than halfway through the second quarter, Sparks head coach Curt Miller called his team’s last timeout of the half after being held to just five second quarter-points to that point. The Aces led by as many as 31 points in the first half and 33 points before the final buzzer.
At no point of the game did Los Angeles hold the lead.
“We can be beaten,” WIlson said. “That’s why we have to play hard for 40 minutes on the defensive end every single day because I never really realized that defense wins championships until I won one.”
Playing undermanned without five players in the lineup, the Sparks were led by 16 points on 7-of-8 shooting from forward Nneka Ogwumike, who also played with a non-COVID illness.
Wilson led all scorers with 23 points on 10-of-13 from the field to go along with six rebounds, three steals and two blocks.
“I really don’t have enough adjectives for A’ja Wilson,” Hammon said. “What I will say is you guys get to see her on the court, you get to see how she works, how she gets and her fire. Her skillset and how she plays the game and it doesn’t even compare to her as a person. She’s the MVP of the league and I’m telling you, she’s times 1,000 as a person.”
Guard Kelsey Plum added 19 points with three made threes coupled with five assists including five points in the final two seconds of the first quarter. She avoided disaster at the end of the first half as she rolled her ankle on a last second pass to fellow guard Chelsea Gray for a buzzer-beating three-pointer.
Young chipped in with 16 points on 7-of-11 from the floor. Through the first three games of the year, she has racked up 69 total points on 20-of-42 shooting.
By the start of the fourth quarter, everybody in uniform for the Aces had logged minutes. Soon after, every player would score at least two points.
Reserve guard Riquna Williams has still yet to play a game this year while dealing with a back injury.