Las Vegas had to answer several Dallas runs along with a signature closeout performance from all-star guard Chelsea Gray.
The Aces downed the Wings, 91-84, Tuesday, Sept. 26 from the Michelob Ultra Arena in Game 2 of their WNBA Semifinal series. Las Vegas has won four consecutive meetings against Dallas since suffering its second regular season game of the year. Overall, the team has won eight straight games while remaining undefeated along this playoff run thus far.
Additionally, members of the team admitted to wanting to get this win for all-star forward A’ja Wilson following the announcement of this year’s league Most Valuable Player award winner.
“This my dawg,” guard Chelsea Gray said. “She plays her friggin’ heart out every single night on both ends. It’s a luxury to be able to play with somebody like her. She makes me look good.”
Prior to tipoff, New York forward Breanna Stewart was named this year’s MVP while Connecticut forward Alyssa Thomas finished second with Wilson coming in third. Following the decision, Wilson admitted to being “hot as hell” about the decision.
“I’m not ticked off,” Wilson said. “I’m happy to be here. I’m blessed, we played a great game that we needed to play and we grinded it out.”
Just over five minutes into the game, Wilson picked up two quick fouls but Hammon opted to leave her in the game. She’d respond with 10 first quarter points, drawing “MVP” chants during two trips to the free throw line.
“I trust her because I’ve been in battles with her before,” Hammon said. “She’s a smart player, I thought Dallas was really trying to go at her. I went into a zone to kind of save her and [guard Jackie Young] some defensive assignments and physicality. I told them, ‘If it comes down to a layup or a foul, give them the layup.’ It’s more important for them to be out there.”
Wilson was at the heart of the Aces effort that saw the team grab a 12-point lead in the second quarter behind an 8-2 run. However, a mirror-like 8-2 run by the Wings cut it down to five just before halftime.
In fact, Dallas opened the second half on a 6-0 run to trim the once double-digit lead to one. The visitors would never get closer than that, losing the game in wire-to-wire fashion. Again, Las Vegas responded with Wilson at the forefront of the attack to regain control of the game amidst a 9-2 run.
Guard Kelsey Plum scored her first field goal of the game in the third quarter before rattling off 11 points in the frame. Plum and Wilson combined to score 17 of the team’s final 21 points.
“She draws a lot of attention,” Gray said. “She can get in the lane pretty easily a lot of the time. So her being able to keep the defender off balance is key for us. I don’t care how many she has missed, you better close out.”
Plum kept things going in the fourth quarter, knocking down two vital three-pointers in the final 10 minutes of regulation. She drilled one to run the lead to a game-high 14 points while her second of the frame broke a 9-0 run by the Wings.
By the end of the night, Plum had accounted for 18 points with four made threes.
Wilson led all scorers with 30 points and 11 rebounds to go along with two blocks and a steal. In doing so, she became the first player in league history to record 30 or more points in three straight playoff games.
“She’s been exceptional,” Hammon said. “She got better in the off-season, I don’t know if people recognize that. She’s getting in her bag, she’s putting the ball on the floor – I mean, you’ve got a 6’4 forward bringing it all the way, dribbling, getting hitting, bobbling, rumbling, bumbling down and laying it up. She’s just special.”
Gray provided the closing act, scoring five straight points late in the fourth quarter to run the lead back to nine points for the home team. She also picked her spots early, picking up nine first quarter points while providing a similar calming presence to the lineup.
“I try to always be that calm within the storm,” Gray said. “Whether it's a game of runs, in different quarters, [whatever] but it’s not always scoring. It’s not always me getting an assist to my name, it’s calling the right plays or just talking like this and calming everybody down.”
Young recorded 11 points with her final field goal coming on a no-look pass from Gray before finishing the fast break with a layup.
With the series sitting at 2-0 for Las Vegas, the series now shifts to Dallas for Game 3 and potentially Game 4. Game 3 is scheduled for Friday, Sept. 29 with tip-off slated for 6:30 p.m.
A win by the Aces in either game would result in a second straight WNBA Finals appearance for the franchise.
“Its’ extremely hard to close out a team,” Hammon said. “Especially a team on its homecourt. Some of their strengths you can call our weaknesses a little bit. A little bit of a clash of strengths and weaknesses and vice versa.”