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Western Conference lead down to two games after Storm race past Aces

Las Vegas guard Kelsey Plum is harassed on defense by Seattle guard Sue Bird. Photo Credit: Las Vegas Aces

The top two teams in the Western Conference put forth a fantastic showing that ended in Las Vegas’ once three game lead dwindle in the end.

The Aces were beaten on the road by the Seattle Storm, 88-78, from the Climate Pledge Arena Wednesday, June 29.

It’s the team’s first double-digit loss since May 10.

“As far as I know, they’re a tough team here as long as [guard] Sue Bird is in uniform,” head coach Becky Hammon said. “Tough arena to play in and tough to overcome 23 points off turnovers.”

Prior to this one, Las Vegas had won the previous three meetings against Seattle including an 11-point win in the early May to improve to 2-0.

In addition, this is the team’s first loss against a Western Conference team this season. Overall, the Aces have lost three of their last four outings.

“You’re bound to hit adversity at some point during the season,” Hammon said. “If it was easy, everybody would be doing it.”

Las Vegas is now 14-5 on the year and will continue its four-game road trip Friday, July 1 against the Minnesota Lynx.

The Aces are now 6-2 on the road this season.

“You go back and you look at areas you can improve and things you want to do differently,” Hammon said. “And you move on. That’s all you can do with a loss, try to learn from it and get better from it.”

Seattle outscored Las Vegas, 44-31, in the second half which included a 21-8 run to close a game that featured 14 lead changes.

Early in the third quarter, the Storm raced out to a 14-0 start as part of a 16-0 run that dated back to the second quarter.

The Aces claimed the 13th lead change on a made three-pointer from guard Kelsey Plum to go up, 70-67.

From there, Storm forward Breanna Stewart scored her second basket of the game after starting the game 1-for-9.

“How many times has she won the [Most Valuable Player award]?” Hammon asked. “That’s what she does, it’s not really surprising. I would’ve liked to have taken it away from her but big players make big plays down the stretch of a game.”

Later in the frame, Stewart knocked down a three-pointer to put Seattle up seven. On the next offensive possession, she drained another one.

That wasn’t the only big three given up by Las Vegas defense as Seattle guard Jewell Loyd tied the game at 72 apiece with a 22-foot trey ball.

In addition, Loyd drilled a clutch basket with 32.8 seconds left after a behind-the-back crossover while being guarded by Aces forward Dearica Hamby.

“Jewell, Stewy, Sue,” Hammon said when asked what stood out down-the-stretch. “That’s a championship caliber team that closed and closed well.”

Loyd led all scorers with 24 points with four made threes while Stewart added 14 points and seven rebounds.

Seattle guard Sue Bird scored 13 points and dished out six assists in win No. 324 for her career, making her the winningest player in league history.

“It says she’s been on a lot of good teams for a very long time,” Hammon said. “And she’s always been the head of the snake. I mean that in a good way. She is who she is for a reason.”

It was also the first game Las Vegas or anyone else has been able to see the newly signed Tina Charles in a Seattle uniform.

“We know Tina’s great,” guard Jackie Young said. “She’s a scorer, she’s an impact player so bringing more scoring for them off-the-bench and somebody else that you have to prepare for.”

Charles finished with four points and five rebounds in 16 minutes played.

At one point in the first quarter, there were seven former No. 1 overall picks on the floor at the same time.

One of which was Aces forward A’ja Wilson, who recorded a double-double with 17 points and 16 rebounds, both team highs.

“She’s a monster in there,” Hammon said. “She just does so many good things for us on both sides of the court. She’s really our anchor. She’s been exceptional all year and she plays well in big games quite frankly.”

Wilson’s rebounding effort helped Las Vegas win the rebounding battle, 40-33, despite the loss.

She and Bird will serve as co-captains of Team Wilson during this year’s All-Star Game in Chicago.

Plum was next in line with 16 points but she also struggled with taking care of the ball, tallying six turnovers.

“We knew coming into this game, they were probably going to blitz a few of us,” Young said. “We weren’t really getting out of the trap well. It was kind of slow so they were able to recover.”

Plum was responsible for five of the first nine Las Vegas turnovers on the night.

That first half also included a stretch where the Aces lead shrunk from six down to two after back-to-back turnovers.

Seattle scored 23 points off 20 Las Vegas turnovers while the Aces were able to come away with 10 points off 13 Storm mistakes.

“We threw the ball around the gym a lot today,” Hammon said. “Give [the Storm’s defense] credit, they caused a lot of chaos. They create a lot of turnovers and we didn’t handle that well.”

Young posted 13 points, eight rebounds, five assists and two steals.

Guard Chelsea Gray was the final Ace starter in double-figures with 10 points to go along with eight assists and five rebounds.

It was the first game back for Gray after missing the last contest due to a personal matter.

Former 2021 first-round draft pick Iliana Rupert scored a career-high 11 points behind nine points in the first quarter on three made threes.

Rupert scored seven points total in the first two games of her career.

“The girls have helped me every single day to learn everything,” she said. “Because there’s a lot of stuff to learn but they just help me day-after-day and I feel more comfortable on the court every time I step in.”


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