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Stout second half, Young’s playoff career-high earn Aces Game 1 finals win

Las Vegas guards Chelsea Gray (#12) and Jackie Young (#0) dap each other up during the team's Game 1 win over New York. Photo Credit: Las Vegas Aces

In two of the three losses to New York this season, Las Vegas was grossly outscored in the second half. However, the Aces used the same recipe to take Game 1 of the WNBA Finals against that same Liberty team.

Las Vegas took Game 1 over New York, 99-82, from the Michelob Ultra Arena Sunday, Oct. 8 in the first meeting between these two clubs since late August. With the win, the Aces improved to 6-0 on this playoff run while running its overall win streak to 10 dating back to the regular season.

“Game 1s are very, very huge when you’re playing in a series,” forward A’ja Wilson said. “The away team normally comes in and wants to steal it, it’s one of the games that you’ve got to come up with.”

With the tone set for Game 1, both teams will now turn their attention to Game 2 of the WNBA Finals which is set for Wednesday, Oct. 11 from the Michelob Ultra Arena with tip-off scheduled for 6 p.m.

Las Vegas picked up the win in Game 1 in front of a sellout crowd after already having led the league in attendance this season.

“Our Vegas fans have really showed up for us,” guard Kelsey Plum said. “Vegas appreciates winning. This city has really rallied around this team – even before last year’s championship. Not only are they selling out but they’re interactive, they’re booing, they’re cheering, they’re barking.”

It was a 53-33 second half edge for the Aces that led the team to the big double-digit series opening win. Neither team held a lead larger than eight heading into the fourth quarter but that quickly changed as Las Vegas would not only go up by double-figures but ultimately lead on the scoreboard by 22 points at one point.

Even up 20, head coach Becky Hammon was assessed a technical foul late in regulation after arguing for a traveling call on New York’s Sabrina Ionescu.

Aces forward A'ja Wilson goes straight up on defense against former MVP Jonquel Jones. Photo Credit: Las Vegas Aces

“I would say it was a C-,” Hammon said of the team’s first half grade. “They gave themselves a D, ‘I said, ‘Well, I didn’t think we were that bad in that first half.’ But they turned it around to an A.”

After trailing by three points at halftime, the home team hit a switch in the third quarter as it raced out to a 9-2 run to regain a five-point lead. By the end of the frame, the Aces had built its largest lead of the game to that point at seven points.

Two third quarter sequences really shook the building beginning with a made 15-footer from Wilson followed by a block on the other end.

“We just did it,” Wilson said. “We lost all the pressure off of our shoulders because we knew what was at-stake. I don’t think we created any crazy scheme, we just went out there and did our jobs.”

The latter sequence was an and-one finish plus the free throw by guard Jackie Young, who recorded a playoff career-high in the win. She had another back-breaking make in the fourth quarter on a give-and-go layup from teammate Chelsea Gray.

Las Vegas guard Jackie Young fired up during her 26-point outing in Game 1 of the WNBA FInals. Photo Credit: Las Vegas Aces

“Going into this season. I wanted her baby [Le]Bron mode,” Hammon said. “She’s really taking the challenge of getting downhill. She’s strong, she absorbs a lot of contact like Bron [and] she doesn’t look like she’s getting hit but she’s getting hit.”

Young turned in 26 points on 9-of-15 from the field with five made three-pointers. She also added five rebounds, four assists and three steals.

Plum shared in the game-high with 26 points on 10-of-19 from the floor, this includes a 9-for-12 mark from inside the three-point line. At one point during the second half, Plum completed a tough reverse layup while defended by Liberty center Jonquel Jones forcing a timeout by the visitors. Immediately after, she raced to halfcourt to engage her teammates and fans, the same fans that were barking in unison at her at one point of the game.

“I think I’ll play like this if it's a pickup game or in the finals,” Plum said. “I try to change my speeds but overall mentally, I just have one speed. For me, I’m just grateful to be in this opportunity, to play back in the finals. I think you think you’re going to get here every year as a player and that’s not the case.”

The aforementioned Gray added 20 points of her own to round out the 20-point scorers for Las Vegas. Wilson chipped in with 19 points, eight rebounds, three blocks and two steals.

Early in the second quarter while at the free throw line, Wilson heard “MVP” chants from the crowd that appeared to have a little more vigor to it considering this year’s MVP, Breanna Stewart, was on the other side playing for New York.


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