The Las Vegas Aces hold the top seed in the playoffs in their own hands after beating the Phoenix Mercury on Friday, 94-73.
With one game remaining, a return engagement with the Mercury on Sunday in Las Vegas, the defending champion Aces can lock up the No. 1 seed with a victory. They’ll also earn the top seed with a loss by the New York Liberty, who also close the season Sunday when they host the Washington Mystics.
MVP candidate A’ja Wilson finished with 30 points for the Aces, her fifth game with 30 or more points – all five coming against different teams.
Also finishing in double figures for Las Vegas was Kelsey Plum, who had 18 points, including 6 of 6 from the free-throw line. Jackie Young scored 17 points on 8 of 12 shooting and Chelsea Gray contributed with 14 points and 12 assists, her 10th double-double of the season.
Phoenix had four players score in double figures, led by Sug Sutton, who scored 18 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and dished 11 assists. It was the first triple-double in franchise history.
Here are three takeaways from Friday’s game:
The Aces clinched a playoff berth more than a month ago, on Aug. 1, when they beat the Atlanta Dream, 93-72. But with the No. 1 seed still in question, it’s helped fuel the Aces’ desire to stay hungry with something to play for down the stretch. They’ll face either the Washington Mystics or the Chicago Sky, both with veterans who can threaten on the offensive end of the court. First things first, however, and that’s Sunday’s season finale at T-Mobile Arena.
“Even if it wasn’t solidified, we still can’t be complacent about who we are. We have so much more that we have to learn, we have so much more that we have to work through and build. So that’s my sole goal, as one of the leaders of this team, is make sure that we don’t get complacent. We have to respect every opponent and we do. … We’re playing for something that’s like, our destiny at this point, the legacy that we want to build here with the Las Vegas Aces.”
Regardless of who Las Vegas ends up playing, its schedule for the first round is set in stone, per the WNBA. The Aces will begin the defense of their title Wednesday (Sept. 13) at T-Mobile Arena, with a tip time of 7 pm pacific. The game will be televised on ESPN.
The Aces will host Game 2 of the opening round on Sunday, Sept. 17 at Mandalay Bay with a 3 pm tip. The game will be shown on ABC.
If a third meeting is necessary, the decisive game will be held at either the seventh- or eighth seed on Wednesday, Sept. 20.
“Hopefully we take care of business on Sunday,” Aces coach Becky Hammon said. “We’re in a dangerous situation. We’re playing a team that has nothing to lose. It’s hard to beat any team – I don’t care what league, what gender, whatever – two times in a row. At the end of the day, we just want to take care of our business. If I had to sit there and say, ‘Oh, I want this team or that (team). Fact is, every team that’s in the playoffs is a quality team. … Every team is going to pose different problems, so it’s just how we go about our business and go about attacking them.”
Earlier this season Sutton registered a career-high 21 points against the defending champions. So after making franchise history for an organization that will long be remembered for players like Diana Taurasi and Brittney Griner, the last pick in the 2020 draft got emotional when she was reminded of a game in Las Vegas last season, when she was a spectator and vowed she would make her way back to the WNBA,
“That’s crazy, I forgot about that moment, you just reminded me. To think back about that, it’s kind of crazy to know that I was in Vegas and I told you that and I have my biggest games against them,” Sutton said, fighting back tears and emotions. “I’m just thankful to be in this moment. The journey to get back here wasn’t easy at all. I’m just really thankful. I thank God to be in this position, and it was not easy at all. But to look back and see how far I’ve came, it’s crazy and I’m speechless just to see how much I’ve accomplished and was able to get back to where I said that I was gonna be.”