Updated: May 22, 2021
In the newly named Michelob ULTRA Arena, the Las Vegas Aces beat the Los Angeles Sparks 97-69 Friday, May 21.
“I thought we came with good energy in the first half,” head coach Bill Laimbeer said. “When we run like that, we can score in bunches; also it energizes our defense.”
After scoring 15 points in the first five and a half of the game, the Sparks were held to 20 points over the last 14-plus minutes of the first half.
The Aces will go for three straight victories Sunday, May 23 at home against the Connecticut Sun.
“[We] probably are a little more advanced than I thought we would be at this point in time,” Laimbeer said. “But I think we have a long way to go.”
Las Vegas beat Connecticut in five games in last year’s WNBA semifinals.
It was the team’s first game without guard Kelsey Plum who is expected to miss time while with Team USA.
Former Los Angeles Sparks guard Chelsea Gray made the most of playing her former team posting 18 points on a nearly perfect 7-of-8 shooting to go along with six assists and five rebounds.
None of this came as a surprise to her teammates and coaches as both Laimbeer and reigning league MVP A’ja Wilson admitted this was what they expected when Gray signed with the team.
“Impressed? Nah, that’s Chelsea, that’s who she is” Wilson said with a smile. “I know that’s Chelsea, I’ve played against her, I’ve played alongside her with Team USA, that’s who she is. I’m glad she’s on our side now, I don’t have to defend her as much.”
Gray’s performance was indicative of her time in Los Angeles and their 2016 championship run with her precision passing and timely buckets.
“Once we get on the court, it’s team against team,” Gray said. “There might be [some jitters] a little bit before but once that ball goes up, I’m just trying to win.”
Third-year guard Jackie Young scored 17 points on 5-of-8 from the field with seven made free throws.
As a team, the Sparks finished with eight made free throws.
“I’m pushing for Jackie Young to be Most Improved Player,” Wilson said. “She’s literally night and day, she’s opening up, she’s coming out of her shell [...] So Jackie for MIP, let’s start the hashtag.”
After the game, Laimbeer said Young is “a scorer now.”
Vegas’ largest lead was 28 points.
Wilson tallied 17 points on 6-of-10 from the field, pulling in eight rebounds and had three blocks.
She has now scored in double figures in 33 straight games.
In addition, reigning Sixth Woman of the Year Dearica Hamby added 17 points off-the-bench.
Her presence was immediately felt entering the game with her team down 15-10 in the first quarter.
Vegas went on a 15-5 run to end the quarter with Hamby on the floor.
“That’s who we are,” Laimbeer said. “We have so many weapons offensively that everybody’s going to do their thing. Our offense is set up for a free-flowing, attacking style.”
All-star center Liz Cambage didn’t have her normal dominant night while battling the Ogwumike sisters all night long.
Laimbeer cited getting the ball to Cambage on time as a point of emphasis moving forward.
Cambage finished with 11 points on 4-of-8 from the field to go along with 10 rebounds and two blocks in 21 minutes of action.
On the other end, Cambage was a part of a defensive effort that held all-star Nneka Ogwumike to four points through the majority of the first half despite her final tally of 19 points.
“Nneka is the heart and soul of the Sparks right now,” Wilson said. “She’s so aggressive, I wish I could have the energy that Nneka has every possession.”
Rookie guard Destiny Slocum also recorded her first points in the WNBA.
“Overall, we got a really good solid effort across the board,” Laimbeer said. “I got some playing time for Slocum, which she came in and did a really nice job. I got some playing time for [center] JiSu [Park], tremendous defensive effort on her part tonight.”
She finished with six points and four assists.