LAS VEGAS — One down, seven to go.
The Las Vegas Aces opened defense of their WNBA title with a dominating 87-59 victory over the Chicago Sky on Wednesday to take a 1-0 lead in their best-of-three series.
Chelsea Gray, one of five Aces to score in double figures, led all scorers with 20 points to go along with seven assists.
Jackie Young finished with 18 points, Kelsey Plum scored 16, A’ja Wilson had 14 points and eight rebounds, and Alysha Clark came off the bench to score 13. Kiah Stokes grabbed 15 rebounds for the Aces.
Kahleah Copper led the Sky with 15 points.
The Aces are seven playoff wins shy of becoming the first repeat champion since the 2001-02 Los Angeles Sparks.
With a win Sunday, the Aces would advance to a best-of-five WNBA semifinal series.
Here are three takeaways from the game:
The Aces made life hard for Chicago with their best 40-minute defensive effort in quite some time. The Aces held Chicago to 35.1% shooting in the first half, including 30.8% from 3-point range. The Sky finished the game 24 of 72 (33.3%) and 5 of 22 (22.7%) from beyond the arc. The 33.3% clip was tied for the second-lowest shooting percentage by an Aces opponent during the regular season and the lowest shooting percentage they’ve held a team to since June 18 (Minnesota, 33.3%). It was also significantly lower than the 45.1% the Sky combined to shoot for in three games against the Aces this season.
“Very good, defensively,” Aces coach Becky Hammon said. “Everybody was locked in one through five, all five people doing their jobs. Their guards are a handful and I thought our guards played them great. Great defense, our bigs played great defense, takes a whole team to kind of guard that trio. So our bigs covered a lot of ground tonight. They were all over the place defensively.”
Las Vegas took full advantage of Chicago’s poor shot selection, particularly in the first half, to stretch its lead to as many as 22. Las Vegas benefitted from 17 fast break points in the first half, capitalizing on Chicago’s quick shooting. The Sky shot just 9 of 24 (37.5%) inside the 3-point arc in the first two quarters, and while the Sky may have outrebounded the Aces, 20-18, it was Las Vegas doing a better job offensively in the paint, outscoring Chicago, 28-16. For the game, the Aces outscored Chicago 27-15 in fast break points, and 44-28 in the paint.
“They’re long and they rebound, and when they rebound they get out,” Chicago guard Courtney Williams said. “So we have to find a way to play better transition defense because honestly, it don’t matter whether we’re missing or making shots, but we can’t give up all these transition buckets. We gotta be better on transition defense.”
Future Hall of Famer Candace Parker remains a fixture on the Aces’ bench, all in support however, as she’s still in a walking boot after having surgery to repair a fracture in her foot roughly two months ago. Parker hasn’t played since July 7, leaving a gap in the paint for the champs. She was averaging 9.0 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game in her first 18 games as an Ace. And while the defending champs might not have missed the two-time WNBA champion against Chicago, and might not if they make it to the semifinals. But if they face the New York Liberty in the WNBA Finals, that could spell trouble against a team that features AP Player of the Year Breanna Stewart and former MVP Jonquel Jones. Hammon didn’t necessarily warm up to a pregame question from Sporting Tribune columnist Steve Carp about Parker’s status and if she’ll be able to return to play.
“That’s your question. She’ll be at the game tonight you could ask her. Seriously, no, she remains sidelined. She’s rehabbing. She’s gonna be rehabbing, probably for a while.”