Aces struggle from floor, lose at home to Sparks, 78-72

Lucas Peltier-USA TODAY Sports
The Aces hit just 36% (27 of 75) from the floor, their second-worst shooting performance during the regular season, and third worst overall.

LAS VEGAS — The Las Vegas Aces lost for the third time in seven games on Saturday, as the playoff-hopeful Los Angeles Sparks handed the defending WNBA champs their first official home loss of the regular season, 78-72.

The Aces, who lost the Commissioner’s Cup on their home court to the New York Liberty on Tuesday, looked like a team playing their fourth game in seven days – and fifth in nine – as they hit just 27 of 75 (36%) from the floor, including an abysmal 8 of 32 (25%) from 3-point range.

The 36% shooting clip was their second-worst performance during the regular season, and third-worst overall, after hitting just 33.3% in the Commissioner’s Cup.

A’ja Wilson led the Aces with 25 points, while her usual supporting cast of Kelsey Plum, Jackie Young and Chelsea Gray has tough nights from the field, all finishing in double digits, but well below their expected points per game. Plum finished with 12, Young had 11, and Gray contributed with 10.

Layisha Clarendon led the Sparks with a season-high 22 points, while Jordin Canada scored 20 points. Nneka Ogwumike added 19 points for Los Angeles.

“They outplayed us today, flat out,” Las Vegas coach Becky Hammon said.

Trailing 72-70 with 1:10 left, Wilson missed three straight shots in an 11-second span, and a fourth moments later, with the Aces down 74-70. The Aces were 1 for 5 down the stretch, while the Sparks used late free throws from Ogwumike and Clarendon to seal the game.

It certainly was quite a difference from what’s been the most dominant team in the league that came into the game leading the league with a 49% shooting clip from the floor and a 38.2% clip from beyond the arc.

Prior to losing in New York on Aug. 6, the Aces were hitting 50.4% from the floor and 38.6% from 3-point range.

In their seven games since – six regular-season games and the Commissioner’s Cup – the Aces have shot 42% from the field and 34.4% from long distance.

“I thought there were plays that we could have shared a lot better, I can get frustrated with that,” Aces coach Becky Hammon said. “I’m not frustrated that we missed some wide-open ones, that happens. Nobody’s trying to miss shots. But when I see people trying to get it back in one play, I have a problem with that.”

To Hammon’s point, the Aces averaged 22 assists per game during the team’s 24-2 start to the season. Over their last seven, they’re averaging 19.7 apg., and an average of 15 apg. in their three losses.

And while the Aces’ schedule has been stacked during a week the rest of the league received an extended break, the Sparks arrived after having six days off, their last game being played on Aug. 12.

“We don’t normally shoot 25% from 3, and it’s been consecutive games now that we haven’t shot well,” Hammon said. “But I didn’t think we were present defensively as a team and as a unit. Especially in that first quarter.”

The Sparks came out firing in the first quarter, using a 14-0 run after falling behind 6-2 early, to take a commanding 16-6 lead behind Canada’s offense. The Aces couldn’t find any sort of rhythm in the opening period, as Wilson scored their first 10 points, hitting 5 of 10 from the floor while the rest of the team was 0 for 6 when the Sparks held a 22-10 lead. Young cracked the scoreboard with a pair of free throws and a 3-pointer to end the first, but with the Sparks in control and a 24-15 lead.

The Aces flipped the script in the second quarter, thanks to their bench, using a 14-6 run out of the gate to cut Los Angeles’ lead to one point, at 30-29. Cayla George hit back-to-back 3-pointers for Las Vegas, then it was Kierstan Bell snatching a crucial offensive rebound to feed Plum for the team’s fourth consecutive trey. Down five, Plum sparked the team with five straight points to put the Aces ahead 36-34, but it was the Sparks once again closing the quarter strong, this time with an 8-0 run to take a 42-36 lead into the locker room at halftime.

The Sparks shot 17 of 31 (54.8%) from the field in the first half, including 4 of 5 (80.0%) from 3-point range. Flipside, the Aces struggled terribly on 12 of 37 (32.4%) shooting, including 6 of 19 (31.6%) from beyond the arc. And while the Sparks committed more turnovers than Las Vegas (13-10) in the opening half, it was Los Angeles outscoring the Aces 12-9 with points off turnovers. The Sparks also dominated the paint, outscoring the defending champs 26-12.