Playoffs clinched with win as Aces move game closer to Chicago
For the fourth straight season, the Las Vegas Aces will play in the postseason.
Las Vegas clinched a playoff spot with an 84-66 win over the Los Angeles Sparks Saturday, July 23 from the Michelob Ultra Arena.
“Nothing,” head coach Becky Hammon said when asked what clinching a playoff spot means to her. “Nothing, nobody’s popping champagne. Getting into the playoffs is not the goal, it's part of the process but it’s not the goal.”
In addition, the Aces picked up a game in the standings after the Chicago Sky lost earlier in the night to the New York Liberty.
Both Las Vegas and Chicago (21-7) will lock horns in the Commissioner’s Cup Final Tuesday, July 26 from the Wintrust Arena.
That will start a 13-day road trip for Hammon and her Aces which includes a season-long five-game road trip immediately following the cup game.
“You just take it one day at a time,” she said. “We’ve been better on the road than at home so hopefully that trend continues. You just have to take them one at a time [...] It starts with the first five minutes in Chicago.”
Las Vegas is now 20-8 overall this season, still good for first place in the Western Conference. The team now sits two and a half games ahead of the Seattle Storm.
Since returning from the all-star break, the Aces sport five wins in six chances. “They don’t like losing either,” Hammon said. “I know everybody had to do a little bit of soul-searching. Everybody had to own their stuff including myself.
“Basically, I just challenged them to be a team. Play with each other and play the right way.”
In the fourth meeting of the season between these two teams, the familiarity helped produce 10 lead changes and eight ties.
“It was a pound the rock type of game for us,” Hammon said. “It wasn’t easy offensively and we just kept at it, kept at it, kept at it. And finally was able to break it open a little bit.”
Early in the game, it was free passes to the free throw line that was the biggest thorn in Las Vegas’ side.
“We were smarter defensively,” guard Chelsea Gray said. “I think at halftime they had 15 free throw attempts and they ended the game with 21. That’s a tale of two halves.”
Los Angeles shot 13 of its 15 first half free throws in the first quarter, closing the frame on a 16-5 run that gave the team a one-point lead heading into the second.
Five of the game’s lead changes came in the second quarter. Coming into the game, Las Vegas had claimed the first three meetings of the season by an average of 17 points per game.
“In LA [for] our last game, I thought we were lucky to walk out of there with a win,” Hammon said. “I thought they could’ve very easily beat us in LA last time we played them. They are a team that’s very scary, that’s a team fighting for playoff position – that’s a hungry team over there.”
Scoring was hard to come by for either team as the Aces took a 57-53 lead into the fourth quarter.
Less than two minutes in, Gray made a spectacular play falling backward, finding fellow guard Kelsey Plum on a backdoor cut to put the home team back up four.
“That’s Chelsea for you,” guard Jackie Young said. “We kind of know that’s what she does. She’s always making some crazy pass, you just have to be ready for it.”
Shortly after, backup guard Riquna Williams scored five straight points, forcing a Sparks timeout, down seven.
“Like I said, it was a ‘pound the rock type of game,’ to quote my former boss,” Hammon said. “Eventually it’s going to go down, we just wanted to make sure we got good looks.
“But we know Bay is capable of hitting big ones and spacing the floor. This was one of her better games all around, just defensively, offensively.”
Williams finished with eight points, accounting for all of the bench’s scoring for the home team.
By the 3:47-mark of the fourth, Las Vegas had pushed its lead 14 points, its largest to that point.
Plum iced the game with a dagger three-pointer, her fourth of the game, to push the lead to 20. Her 88 threes this season are now tied for seventh for most threes made in a single-season.
“She’s a key piece to our offense,” forward A’ja Wilson said. “When she’s scoring well on the offensive end for us and helps us out obviously. But that’s KP and that’s what she does best.”
Fans were treated to 12 first half points for Plum before she added nine more in the third alone on her way to a game-high 29 points on 9-of-14 shooting.
Wilson scored 20 or more points for the seventh straight game, breaking a tie with Hammon for the most consecutive 20-plus point scoring nights in franchise history.
“My teammates are just setting me up,” she said. “They put me in the best situations to score the basketball and that’s something that I enjoy doing – like, I like to do it. I wouldn’t be able to do what I do without my teammates.”
Wilson finished with 24 points on 8-of-19 from the field to go with six rebounds, two steals and two blocks.
Young and Gray also scored in double-figures, finishing with 11 and 10 points respectively.
Young also pulled in a game-high nine rebounds and dished out a game-high six assists.