No. 1 seed clinched as Aces close regular season with win
Controlling its own destiny, Las Vegas needed a win to clinch the No. 1 seed in the WNBA Playoffs and it got it.
The Aces beat the Seattle Storm, 109-100, Sunday, Aug. 14 from the Michelob Ultra Arena in Las Vegas.
“At the end of the day, we work hard for this,” forward A’ja Wilson said. “We put ourselves in this situation to know we’re not done yet, this is just the beginning and the start of a new season.”
With a 26-10 overall record to close the year, Las Vegas now confirms that the road to the WNBA championship will go through the valley. The team ends the year on a four-game win streak and winners of eight of its last 10.
“Really since the all-star break, we’ve been playing very well,” head coach Becky Hammon said. “But the buy-in at the defensive end, understanding how to compete – and compete for each other.”
Since the all-star break the Aces are 11-3.
With a home win in the regular season, Las Vegas closes the regular season 13-5 at home and in front of a franchise record 10,015 fans.
“It definitely plays a part in the energy,” Hammon said. “The girls feel it, as a player you can feel it. And we want them to come back.”
The playoff run will begin with a Wednesday, Aug. 17, when the Aces will host the Phoenix Mercury, who clinched the seven seed in the bracket despite losing to the No. 2 Chicago Sky later in the day.
“Now, we’re just getting into the money part,” Hamon said. “We took care of our regular season but we didn’t come here to win the regular season. We want to win in the playoffs.”
Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m.
Guard Chelsea Gray scored 10 straight fourth quarter points in a game where she set a new career-high with 33 points on 10-of-15 from the field and 11 made free throws. She also had nine assists to go along with seven rebounds.
“Her calmness, her composure,” Wilson said. “A lot of people in a lot of different situations get frantic, they start going crazy and getting antsy. But when it comes to Chelsea Gray, she’s very composed.”
The individual run from Gray came in a game full of runs, beginning with an 8-0 run by the home team in the first quarter to take a four-point lead.
Just before halftime, Las Vegas went on a 10-0 run to take a one-point lead into the break after being down by as many as 12 points. To compound matters, the Aces upped their previous best for a 12-0 run to take a two-point lead into the third quarter. That run was capped by a buzzer-beating three-pointer by Gray.
“Those runs are the difference between winning and losing,” Hammon said. “I took an early timeout because I didn’t like what I was seeing. Couple of turnovers, just a step or two late defensively. You can’t take any possession off against that team offensively or defensively.”
With the team up three, forward Kiah Stokes sent away a driving layup attempt by red-hot Seattle guard Jewell Loyd. Moments later, Wilson did the same on Storm forward Breanna Stewart.
Gray corralled the loose ball off of Wilson’s block and found fellow guard Kelsey Plum up ahead for a three-pointer to put the team up six, three of her 23 points.
“Making those kinds of plays late in the game,” Hammon said. “In my opinion, along with our whole team putting together a great regular season, I think you guys know where my vote would be going.”
Questions have lingered all season long about the team’s ability to close games.
“I think just continuing to play the right way,” Hammon said. “Why would you play the right way for 38 minutes and in the last two minutes go rogue? It’s been different people at different times.”
Wilson added another double-double to cap the regular season, her 17th of the year while setting a new franchise-record in career double-doubles with 54.
“I think A’ja’s been exceptional all year,” Hammon said. “The defensive piece to it, she’s just been an anchor for us there.”
With many people believing Stewart and Wilson are the frontrunners for the league’s Most Valuable Player awards, Gray was expectedly candid about her take on things.
“Yeah, the MVP right here,” Gray said as she pat Wilson on the leg. “She’s just been solid all year long. Whenever we went through those lulls, she stayed the same. I think that’s what an MVP does.”
Wilson led an Aces defense that held Stewart to 21 points on 9-of-21 shooting and 1-of-5 from deep. She did haul in 15 rebounds.
The thorn in the side of Las Vegas was Loyd, who scored 30 of her game-high 38 points in the final three quarters. She ended the night with a 13-for-23-mark from the field to go along with eight made threes.
“Jewell got away from us a little bit,” Hammon said. “But for the most part, we did a decent job on everybody else.”
Seattle guard Sue Bird was recognized prior to tip-off and and in the closing seconds in the final regular season game of her career.
“Sue deserves the flowers and everything that she’s getting,” Wilson said. “This is a big moment for her whether she’s home or away [...] She’s earned her way to being one of the greatest in our league.”