LAS VEGAS — The Las Vegas Aces knew their playoff position as their game tipped off Sunday with the Phoenix Mercury.
Solidified as the No. 1 overall seed, it wouldn’t matter, as the Aces dismantled Phoenix for a second time in three nights, this time at T-Mobile Arena in the regular-season finale on Fan Appreciation Day, a 100-85 victory.
Las Vegas (34-6) broke a WNBA record with its 11th 100-point game of the season in front of a franchise record 17,406 fans in attendance.
A’ja Wilson finished with 36 points, the sixth time this season she’s scored 30 or more points in a game.
Kelsey Plum finished with 30 points and Chelsea Gray added 21 points and eight assists.
The Mercury (9-31), just two years removed from appearing in the WNBA Finals, finish with the third-fewest wins in franchise history, behind seasons they played 34 games (7-27 in 2012 and 8-26 in 2003).
Phoenix was led by former Ace Moriah Jefferson, who finished with 22 points. Brittney Griner had 21 points and Sug Sutton added 14 points and six assists.
Here are three takeaways from the game:
MVP or nah?
With the regular season in the books, the race to MVP is on, with Wilson, New York’s Breanna Stewart and Connecticut’s Alyssa Thomas garnering much of the attention. And while Liberty coach Sandy Brondello continues to call Stewart the MVP after nearly every post-game press conference, Aces coach Becky Hammon is convinced she has the best player in the league on her roster. Making the argument for Wilson, last year’s MVP and Defensive Player of the Year, her numbers have gotten increasingly better since the All-Star Break, and after future Hall of Famer Candace Parker was lost for the remainder of the regular season. Through July 12, Wilson averaged 19.7 points on 53.2% shooting, along with 9.3 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game. But since the break, she leads the league with 26.2 points on 58.2% shooting to accompany 9.8 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per contest.
“She’s better than she was last year,” Hammon said. “She’s been playing better than she was last year. And, she plays on the best team, the best record and efficiency. I go back to the minutes played. Don’t penalize her because her coach didn’t play in a lot of fourth quarters. Points per minute, she’s the most efficient scorer in the league. Defensively, she anchors the number one defense in the league. So when you’re talking about number one offense, number one defense – she’s the head and she’s very deserving.”
Perfect shade of Gray
And while Wilson might be the reigning MVP in the league, the Aces boast the reigning WNBA Finals MVP in Chelsea Gray. The two-time WNBA champion and five-time WNBA All-Star is heating up at the right time, closing out the regular season scorching hot after shooting 45.5% or better in the last four games. In that span, Gray is scoring 17.5 points on 57.8% shooting while averaging a league third-best 7.8 assists per game. To compare, she’s averaging 15.1 points on 48.4% shooting with 7.3 assists per game all season.
“She’s the head of our snake, she makes us go,” Wilson said of Gray. “She gets us organized and makes sure that we’re in the right spot so we perform at a very high level. But at the same time, she doesn’t miss out on her moments. And that’s what we need from her the most. And this has just always been in Chelsea’s blood. … And so we’re just rallying around her and making sure that she understands that we’re here for her as much as she’s there for us.”
With Las Vegas clinching the overall No. 1 seed for the postseason just moments before tipoff thanks to the Liberty’s 90-88 loss to the Washington Mystics, the defending champs later learned they will face the Chicago Sky in a best-two-out-three first-round series that begins Wednesday at T-Mobile Arena. Tip on ESPN2 is scheduled for 7 pm pacific. The Aces swept their regular-season series with Chicago, winning by 7, 12 and 13 points. Las Vegas scored 93 or more points 24 times this season – including all three its meetings with the Sky. Three of the Aces’ top 21 shooting performances came against Chicago, hitting at least 47.9% from the floor in all three games.
“It’s one game at a time,” Plum said. “We got to lock in on this upcoming game. Can’t really focus on anything else but that because people are too good. And in the playoffs, it’s just forget everything that happened in the regular season, different season. It doesn’t matter 8-seed vs. 1-seed, it doesn’t matter. We got to treat it as a one-and-done type thing in terms of our sense of urgency. And then once that game’s over you focus on the next one.”