The conversation about a possible repeat for the Las Vegas Aces can officially begin as the team opened up this year’s playoff run with an assertive whooping of the Chicago Sky.
Las Vegas routed Chicago, 87-59, Wednesday, Sept. 13 from the T-Mobile Arena in front of nearly 13,000 fans. This matchup represents this year’s 1 vs. 8 series after the Aces took all three of the regular season meetings by an average of 10.7 points per outing.
“Everybody was locked in – one through five,” head coach Becky Hammon said. “Everybody was doing their jobs. [The Sky’s] guards are a handful and I thought our guards played great.
“It takes a whole team to guard that trio.”
Two years ago to the day, Hammon had her jersey retired inside the Michelob Ultra Arena. Fast forward to now and she may be weeks away from adding another Coach of the Year and WNBA Championship to her resume.
“All my attention these last two weeks have been about finishing the season and getting into the playoffs,” Hammon said. “But looking back on it, that’s kind when I first met [team president Nikki Fargas] and [team owner Mark Davis] and I think they were putting their nets out for me then. They set me up and they caught me.
“It’s been amazing but I’ll just say my team and the girls that I get to come to work with everyday make this the best decision I’ve made.”
Hammon now has her team within a win of returning to the WNBA Semifinals for the second consecutive year and the eighth time in franchise history. Game 2 is slated for Sunday, Sept. 17 from the Michelob Ultra Arena with tip-off set for 12 p.m.
“We’re not going to be satisfied with one win,” forward A’ja Wilson said. “We’re not going to take this win for granted. We’re going to embrace it but we’ve got a couple more to win.”
It was a fast start for the defending champs as it stifled any offensive gameplan conjured up by the Sky, limiting them to just 15 points in the first quarter. From the jump, the Aces shot out to a 6-0 lead on the way to building a lead as large as 12 points in the first 10 minutes.
By the end of the first quarter, four of the five Las Vegas starters already had a plus/minus of +10 or more led by a +12 mark by guard Jackie Young.
That first quarter was just the start of the avalanche as the Aces ran the lead up to 22 points and eventually 30 before the final buzzer.
All things good for Las Vegas came through the team’s defense, ultimately forcing 14 turnovers and turning them into 16 points the other way. Ten of those 14 turnovers came on the heels of 10 steals.
Fast break points came frequently for the home team to the tune of 27 points in transition while holding its opponent to 15 points on the other end.
“[It’s] doing the little things” guard Chelsea Gray said. “It’s paying attention to the scout, what we want to do and what we’re willing to give up. And we live with the result.”
Chicago’s Kahleah Copper led her team with 15 points on 5-of-14 from the field and would go on to be the lone Sky player in double-figures.
“She’s a lethal scorer,” Hammon said. “We know that. We have a ton of respect for her, that’s why she draws that much attention.”
Gray led all scorers with 20 points on 7-of-15 shooting to go along with seven assists, four rebounds, two steals and two blocks.
“She’s an electrifying player,” Hammon said. “I thought our offense was just okay tonight to be honest. I think we have another level [and] we can still get there.” Young reached double-figures on a four-point play in the second quarter as the reigning champs steadily increased their lead. She’d finish with 18 points including three made threes and three steals.
Guard Kelsey Plum added 16 points of her own.
Wilson was the fourth leading scorer for Las Vegas, posting 14 points and eight rebounds in 28 minutes of action. To start the game, she opened up making her first four shots of the game before launching her first miss.
In addition, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year added four blocks including back-to-back rejections in a four second span in the second quarter.
“It’s the playoffs and they want to do it,” Hammon said. “They want to get out there and play well.”
Reserve forward Alysha Clark recorded 13 points off-the-bench and was in the middle of some momentum shifting plays including drawing a charge in transition.
“AC does all the little things,” Wilson said. “She communicates with us and she makes sure we’re all on the same page and you need that throughout the course of a game. I don’t think I’ve ever seen AC take a play off – I’m so glad we picked her up because I couldn’t stand being guarded by her.”
The Aces are still without former two-time MVP Candace Parker, who is still recovering from foot surgery. She hasn’t played since July 7th.
In her absence, center Kiah Stokes has stepped into the starting lineup and has arguably shined brightest against Parker’s former team, the Sky. With 15 rebounds in Game 1, Stokes has now recorded 36 rebounds in her last three meetings against Chicago.
“Kiah’s the anchor of our defense guys,” Wilson said. “It’s ridiculous, she does all the little things that don’t necessarily show up on the stat sheet but tonight her rebounds did.”