Wilson, Stewart shine in classic as Aces even WNBA semifinals
Superstars A’ja Wilson and Breanna Stewart dueling in the desert provided the perfect storyline to an already hotly contested WNBA semifinals.
“I be watching during the game,” guard Chelsea Gray said with a smile. “I be like, ‘Oh, Stewie just scored. A’ja what you about to do?’”
Las Vegas edged Seattle, 78-73, in game two of the best-of-five WNBA semifinals series Wednesday, Aug. 31 from the Michelob Ultra Arena in Las Vegas.
“We did what we had to do,” head coach Becky Hammon said. “This was pretty much a must-win for us. I thought we still came out a little tight but we eventually got to where we needed to be.” With things now split at one apiece and the series shifts to Seattle.
“It’s by any means necessary,” Gray said. “You can’t get game one back but in the moment, you can’t get game two back either. Every possession counts.”
This season, the Aces were 1-1 in Seattle against the Storm including winning the team’s final regular season home game from Climate Pledge Arena.
Game three is scheduled for Sunday, Sept. 4 from the Climate Pledge Arena with tipoff slated for 12 p.m.
With three seconds left on the shot clock late in the third quarter, Wilson nailed her only made three of the game from the right wing to put Las Vegas up six points. Moments earlier, she had just put the team up by five on a coast-to-coast layup.
“I’m sure [Seattle head coach] Noelle Quinn would beg to differ but we think we have the MVP,” Hammon said. “And she played that way.”
Guard Kelsey Plum, who assisted on that made three from Wilson, stole the inbound pass on the ensuing play and capped off the highlight with a layup just before the third quarter buzzer.
Las Vegas ended the third quarter on a 12-2 run overall highlighted by that 5-0 run in the final 10 seconds.
Wilson secured her double-double in that third quarter on the way to 33 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks. Prior to the start of the game, she was awarded the league’s Defensive Player of the Year award.
Her rebounding effort helped the Aces win that category by four after losing it by three in game one.
Wilson’s game two performance comes on the heels of her eight-point outing in game one.
“I didn’t do what I needed to do in game one,” she said. “Like Chelsea said, ‘We can’t get game one back’ but I didn’t like the feeling I had. I needed to be more present and more in the moment for my team and I wasn’t.”
Wilson was matched on the other side by 32 points from fellow former league MVP, Stewart. It was her play early that put Las Vegas behind the eight-ball yet again to start a playoff game.
Stewart scored eight points in the first quarter, where the Storm were able to take control of the game with a 10-0 run. During that run, the Aces went scoreless for nearly three minutes.
In the second quarter, Stewart added eight more points for a 16-point first half. With 6.6 left in regulation, Stewart fouled out of the game.
“I think that’s what grows the game, everybody loves a great matchup,” Wilson said. “That’s what draws fans and what draws attention to us. It’s kind of hard also being in that spotlight of course because all eyes are on Stewie and I but that’s something that’s going to grow our game.”
Gray worked in concert with Wilson in that first quarter, combining for nine of the team’s first 11 points. Later in the quarter, she’d be whistled for an offensive foul while backing down Seattle guard Sue Bird. While arguing the call, she picked up a technical foul to go along with it.
Once settled, Gray would pour in 19 points to go along with seven rebounds and seven assists in nearly 38 minutes of action.
“That stretch that we went small and put Chelsea Gray in the post,” Hammon said. “Her activity really changed the momentum of the game.”
Fellow guard Kelsey Plum added 18 points on 6-of-15 shooting, scoring nine points in the fourth quarter after being held to nine points through the first three quarters.
“We started to get some stuff going toward the basket,” Hammon said. “You guys know I love threes but I love the rim too. I thought we did a great job attacking. We didn’t just settle, we attacked and that’s why we got to the free throw line because we were in attack mode.”
Las Vegas attempted 23 free throws on the night while Seattle took 11.
The backcourt defense helped hold Storm guard Jewell Loyd to eight points on 2-of-10 from the field. In game one, she racked up 26 points for 64 points in her last two meetings against the team.
“Jewell is always a concern,” Hammon said. “So for us to be able to lock and do some things – I still don’t think we’ve played great offensively but tonight, we did enough to win.”