Las Vegas made quick work of Chicago, ousting the team from the first round of the WNBA Playoffs after back-to-back wins.
For the fifth time this season the Aces defeated the Sky, 92-70, from the Michelob Ultra Arena Sunday, Sept. 17. Las Vegas won each meeting by an average of 16.4 points per game including winning both playoff matchups by an average of 25 points per contest.
“I was happy with the way we came out,” forward Alysha Clark said. “When a team’s back is against the wall, they’re going to come out and play incredibly well [...] It’s not easy to close out a series but I’m happy we did it, I’m happy we don’t have to travel and we can get some rest.”
The win means the reigning champs’ run at a possible repeat title is still alive as the team moves into the WNBA Semifinals. The league has not had a repeat champion since the Los Angeles Sparks more than 20 years ago.
Now, the Aces will await the winner of the Atlanta Dream-Dallas Wings series before zoning in on their next opponent. Las Vegas went 7-1 against those two foes with the lone loss coming at the hands of Dallas as part of a back-to-back on the road.
Whoever draws the Aces next will do so after the No. 1 seed will receive a week off in preparation for the next series.
“I’m going to give the girls a couple of days off,” head coach Becky Hammon said. “[Coaches] will be in working, prepping for the next round. It’s an interesting schedule and it’s honestly hard to manage. I’d much rather be playing in three or four days.”
Las Vegas never trailed at any point through the first round, winning both games against Chicago in wire-to-wire fashion. Locking in on the defensive end set the tone early for the home team, racking up four steals and four blocks in the first 10 minutes of the game.
By the final buzzer, the Aces had won the rebounding battle by 14 while holding their opponent to 39% shooting from the field.
However, the Sky opened the fourth quarter with a 17-2 run to cut the once 28-point lead down to nine.
“[It was] our sense of urgency,” Hammon said. “When the other team is hitting the gas pedal, it's not the time to hit cruise control and I thought we hit cruise control a little bit. And got a little bit, I don’t know, content.”
Las Vegas went to two-time MVP A’ja Wilson time and time again when things got stagnant on the offensive end. While answering Chicago’s fourth quarter run, she set the franchise record for points scored in a playoff game surpassing Hammon’s 35 points in 2008.
“On nights where our guards kind of struggle from the field we have a pretty good option inside,” Hammon said. “She was spectacular tonight, A’ja was on both ends of the ball.”
Wilson had it going from the jump, scoring 10 points in the opening quarter while accounting for three of the team’s four steals and three of the team’s four blocks. She’d finish with 38 points, 16 rebounds, four blocks and three steals.
“One hundred percent,” Wilson said when asked if she surprises herself with her defensive range. “Especially without fouling because I don’t like to get fouled so I try not to foul other people [...] Sometimes I’m out of position and I’m like ‘Lord, Becky is about to cuss me out,’ but I try to make up for it.”
As the team stretched its lead in the third quarter, she scored six straight points and eight of the team’s 10.
“I’m doing my job,” Wilson said. “I’m doing what I need to do, I’m getting spaces that can make my teammates better but also our offense better and our defense better so I don’t look at it like ‘I’m in a trance and I need to go get this bucket.’ “I’m still waiting on that moment – hopefully it comes soon because I want to have that look in my eyes.”
Clark recorded 14 points on 5-for-8 from the field including two made threes to go along with six rebounds. She has reached double-figures in back-to-back playoff games. During the regular season she scored in double-digits in back-to-back games twice.
“She gives us such a different look than [forward Kiah Stokes],” Hammon said. “She’s really just finding her spots and her teammates are finding her. As good as she can shoot, people are still willing to live with that.”
Despite the sweep, Hammon admitted that she has yet to see a signature offensive performance from her team. The guard trio of Jackie Young, Kelsey Plum and Chelsea Gray combined to go 11-for-38 from the floor while scoring 34 total points.
“There’s not going to be very many nights where my three guards go 11-for-38,” Hammon said. “There’s not going to be very many nights like that. They had one tonight, luckily our defense was where it needed to be and A’ja Wilson was on another planet.”
Gray did dish out nine assists to push her franchise playoff total to 118 which breaks the previous record held by Hammon with 114.