Aces rout Dallas in semis opener, 97-83

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
The Las Vegas Aces are now two wins away from returning to the WNBA Finals and defending their championship.

LAS VEGAS — The Las Vegas Aces are one win closer to repeating as the WNBA champion after defeating the Dallas Wings, 97-83, in their semifinal series opener on Sunday.

A’ja Wilson scored 34 points on 15 of 21 (71.4%) shooting and grabbed eight rebounds while finishing with a +26.

Kelsey Plum had 25 points on 8 of 15 (53.3%) shooting, including 5 of 10 (50%) from 3-point range.

Also in double figures for the Aces was Jackie Young, who registered a double-double with 19 points and 10 rebounds, and Chelsea Gray, who finished with 13 points.

Dallas had five players score in double figures, led by WNBA Most Improved Player Satou Sabally, who had 16 points, seven rebounds and seven assists.

Game 2 is scheduled for Tuesday night in Las Vegas.

Here are three takeaways from the game:

THE CORE FOUR: The aforementioned starting foursome didn’t just finish with 91 of Las Vegas’ 97 points, but it did so on 57.6% shooting, including 52.6% from 3-point land. But it was more than their offensive prowess that impressed Aces coach Becky Hammon, who stressed a more stringent effort on defense after her team led by just four at halftime, 49-45. The Aces responded by outscoring Dallas 26-12 in the third quarter, with Young, Wilson and Plum playing every minute of the period. Wilson scored 14 of her points in the third quarter. Alysha Clark came off the bench for 4:02, giving Gray and starting center Kiah Stokes breathers. The Aces, who had 28-point +/- differential, he;ld the Wings to just 4 of 13 shooting and outscored them in the paint, 16-6.

“I love offense, everybody loves offense,” Wilson said. “But it’s the defense that wins championships.”

STOKED TO HAVE HER: Prior to Sunday’s game, both Clark and Wilson received their Sixth Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year awards, respectively. Wilson brought Stokes with her to center court for the trophy presentation, as the reigning MVP and now two-time Defensive Player of the Year has always credited Stokes for her defensive prowess. For Stokes, she’s continually said it’s easy to focus on her defensive game with four stars like Wilson, Chelsea Gray, Jackie Young and Kelsey Plum in the starting lineup with her. Sunday, Stokes finished with two points on just 1 of 3 shooting, but contributed with six rebounds and three steals in 28:53.

“I’ve always said Kiah is the anchor to our defense – she makes us go,” Wilson told The Sporting Tribune last month, speaking about the nine-year veteran.

BENCH SCORING: The Wings and Aces finished 11th and 12th, respectively, in bench scoring during the regular season. While Dallas reserves averaged 14.1 points per game, Aces backups scored an average of 13.5 per contest. And while the Wings starters were outscored Sunday, 91-56, their bench outscored Las Vegas’ reserves, 27-4. Odyssey Sims and Kalani Brown each scored 10 for Dallas, while Maddy Siegrist contributed with seven.

“That was a bright spot for sure,” Dallas coach Latricia Trammel said. “Odyssey is, for lack of a better term, the Energizer bunny. She’s been there and done that. She comes in and gives us invaluable minutes. We’ll continue to rely on them.”