Las Vegas Aces coach Becky Hammon said she’s been challenging her team to finish quarters against the Dallas Wings during the WNBA semifinals.
It’s exactly what the defending champs did Friday night to close out the series and advance to the WNBA Finals for a second straight season.
The Aces, who fell behind by eight at one point, closed the game on an 11-0 run to secure a 64-61 victory over the Wings.
“It means everything,” Aces point guard Chelsea Gray said about returning to the Finals. “We worked so hard to get here, ups and downs of the season. Super proud of this group, how we played. We were down a lot of that game.”
Gray led the Aces in scoring with 15 points, accompanied by six rebounds and four assists.
Las Vegas will face either the New York Liberty in a highly anticipated WNBA Finals, or the Connecticut Sun in a rematch of last year’s Finals. The Liberty lead Connecticut 2-1 in their semifinal round.
The Aces are the first defending champion to reach the Finals since the 2017 Los Angeles Sparks. Now they’ll try to become the league’s first repeat champion since the 2001-02 Sparks.
The defending champion Aces return to the Finals for a second straight year, and the third time in four years, where they’ll face either the New York Liberty or Connecticut Sun.
The Aces were 2-3 against the Liberty this season, and were 2-1 against Connecticut.
“The job isn’t done,” said Aces guard Kelsey Plum, who finished with 11 points and seven assists. “We don’t know who we’re playing yet. We’re going to be excited to defend homecourt.”
Aces star A’ja Wilson finished with 13 points and 13 rebounds to register her 15th career playoff double-double. She also had nine of the team’s 20 turnovers, the most in a playoff game under coach Becky Hammon.
“It’s just the way the game goes,” Wilson said. “One game you can have 30, the next game you can have 10. But at the end of the day, I just try to be productive for my team. Tonight it was rebounds.”
Arike Ogunbowale led the Wings with 18 points. Teaira McGowan had 10 points and 15 rebounds, while Natasha Howard finished with 14 points and eight rebounds.
And while the 64 points were the Aces’ fewest in a playoff win in franchise history, they did what they’ve done all season, using their defense to get the offensive run they needed to win the game.
After leading for much of the game, the Wings were held scoreless over the final 4:59 of the game, missing 11 straight field-goal attempts while allowing the Aces to make their run.
“It’s not the prettiest of games, but we’re happy to be walking out of here with a win,” Aces coach Becky Hammon said. You have to take a look at our entertainment value … it was very ugly basketball.”
Said Gray: “Offense will come and go … but our defense and our rebounding has to be there every single night. That’s what got us back in the game.”