LAS VEGAS — The Las Vegas Aces ended their only two-game losing skid of the season with an 84-75 win over the Washington Mystics.
The win exacted revenge from a 78-62 loss in Washington D.C. on Aug. 26, and also improved the Aces to 31-6. The 31 wins are a WNBA record for wins in a season.
Reigning Western Conference Player of the Week A’ja Wilson finished with 26 points and 11 rebounds, her 20th double-double of the season.
Las Vegas returns to the court Saturday night at home against the Seattle Storm.
Here are three takeaways from Thursday’s game:
After suffering two straight losses to close a treacherous road trip that included a visit to the White House and four games in seven days, it was imperative for the Aces to open the game as the aggressor, putting the Mystics on their heels. They did just that, hitting 55.6% from the floor in the first quarter, including 8 of 13 (61.5%) from inside the 3-point stripe. Their hot start coupled nicely with Washington’s poor start (4 of 15, 26.7%), as they led 24-14 after one. The Aces finished the first half 16 of 34 (47.1%) from the floor, including 5 of 14 (35.7%) from 3-point range, and took a 40-30 lead into the locker room at halftime.
“A good start is always crucial,” Aces coach Becky Hammon said. “You know, it’s funny because I feel like a lot of times we haven’t started the first quarters well, and then we’ll come out and play crazy in the third quarter. And then we’ll play the first quarter really well and play crappy in the third quarter. Both those are really crucial points in the game of just getting off to a good start. We needed that cushion. They made a huge run back at us. I ran out of timeouts, so they’re self-adjusting and talking. What I really liked tonight was just their communication. … We’ve been talking about upping our communication and that right there will help our defense and I thought they were pretty locked in and did that tonight.”
Kelsey Plum has repeatedly talked about her massively improved defensive game while avoiding having a shoot-first mentality. That mindset was quite evident in Thursday night’s first half, as the sharpshooter had five assists, one steal, and one rebound while leading the Aces with a +14. But the most glaring stat was she hadn’t taken one shot from the field, and was just 1 for 2 from the free-throw line. Instead, her defensive intensity suffocated Washington star Natasha Cloud, who was just 1 of 6 – including 0 for 4 from 3-point range – and finished the first half with a -11. With Cloud resting in during one sequence, Plum was guarding Ariel Atkins, but timed it perfectly elsewhere, rip the ball out of Meng’s hands, drive down the left side of the court and then find a trailing Cayla George who buried a 3. Though she had just one point, Plum’s presence on defense was a big reason the Aces led by 10 at halftime.
“I think that we had to get back to playing basketball in a different type of way,” said Plum, who finished with 12 points on 3 of 6 shooting, to go along with 10 assists – her second double-double of the season. “For me, I’m better than what I showed, especially the last seven or eight games. We’ve had some slippages and I feel like a lot of that is on me because I have to play the right way. And a team like Washington is gonna try to take a lot of things away from like me as a player. They’re not gonna let me get to the paint. They’re gonna blitz me on ball screens, they’re gonna over rotate. And so I was just like, ‘You know what, I know they’re gonna do this so let’s take advantage of it and get people going.’ I mean, I’m very confident in scoring the basketball. I feel like I can get hot really quick. And so I knew it’s gonna come, but like me trying to force stuff or not in the flow isn’t what’s gonna help us win games. So from here on out … I want to win. I’m just frickin sic of losing.”
During an All-Star Weekend interview, Cloud was asked if the Aces were beatable, and she told The Sporting Tribune, “Yeah, they don’t have a bench. And that’s the honest truth. They don’t go deep into their bench, that’s the reality of it. In a game, in a series, anybody’s beatable.” The Aces’ bench outscored Washington’s reserves 18-15, including 11 points from former Mystic and Sixth Woman of the Year candidate Alysha Clark, who played 27:59. It was a major turnaround for Clark, who had shot 30.6% from the floor and averaged 4.3 points over her previous seven games. Also off the bench, Syd Colson had 4 points in 7:42 and Cayla George had 3 points in 7:23.
“I mean, with AC and Syd, they just did what they needed to do in the minutes they were given,” Wilson said. “They’re pros and they’re really good at what they do. And it was just a matter of time that things were just gonna start clicking for AC. She’s been in the gym. Everywhere we’ve been she’s been in the gym, because it gets frustrating when you miss shots, especially ones that you’re used to making. So it’s just a matter of time that they were going to fall and so I’m just super proud of how they stepped up and they were ready when their name was called because those that production is going to be needed later on down the road. We’re not asking them to go out there and get 20, just little things are going to help us at the end of the day. So I’m just very proud of how our bench performed tonight.”