The Las Vegas Aces wrapped their regular season on a satisfying note Sunday, handing a 109-100 defeat to the Seattle Storm in Sue Bird’s final WNBA regular-season game and locking up the No. 1 seed in the playoffs.
The Aces also won the Commissioner’s Cup for best regular-season record, ending at 26-10 and finishing with a four-game win streak that included an 89-78 win over defending WNBA champion Chicago on Thursday. But first-year Aces’ coach Becky Hammon has her eyes squarely focused on the post-season, which kicks off Wednesday in Las Vegas with a first-round three-game series vs. the eighth-seeded Phoenix Mercury.
“We took care of a regular season, but we didn’t come here to win the regular season,” Hammon told reporters after the game. “We want to win the playoffs and position ourselves to be able to do that. And, you know, things like (homecourt advantage) will definitely be advantageous for us for sure.”
A raucous crowd that included NBA players Chris Paul and Devin Booker was on hand to witness a career-high performance from Chelsea Gray, who poured in 33 points, seven rebounds and nine assists. Three other players scored in double digits, including Kelsey Plum, who had 23 points with seven of them coming in the final minute of the game. A’Ja Wilson added 25 points and 10 rebounds, while Riquna Williams scored 11 points.
“She’s locked in,” Wilson said about Gray. “When the head of our snake is locked in, it trickles down. We need her to make those big buckets. We know she’s capable of doing it, so I’m glad she was able to showcase in front of a great crowd to end the regular season.”
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Hammon noted that she’s seen a turnaround in her team since the All-Star break, after which they’ve gone 11-3.
“I think (it’s) the buy-in at the defensive end,” she explained. “Understanding how to compete and compete for each other. When I watched them play last year, they had people go rogue at times, and you can’t be a great team with people who are just going to try to do it themselves.
“And I think the buy-in factor has been that they’ve bought into each other — even contractually. I’m like, ‘You’ve literally made money investments in each other by taking less money so we can keep everybody together.’ So that trust factor just continues to grow, and once you get that, I think you can get something special.”
That special sauce translated into a new line for the history books on Sunday, when Plum and Wilson became the first two teammates in WNBA history to record more than 700 points each in a single season. Wilson finished with 703 points, while Plum recorded a franchise-record 726 points.
Additionally, the Aces finished with a franchise-record scoring average, averaging 90.4 points per game and becoming just the third team in WNBA history to average 90 or more points in a season (Phoenix holds the other two records, averaging 93.9 in 2010 and 92.8 in 2009). Las Vegas’ 26 wins also marked the most in a season in franchise history, breaking the record of 24 shared by the 2008 Silver Stars and 2021 Aces.
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Also recording a career-best was Seattle’s Jewell Loyd, who scored a career-high 38 points that included 8-of-14 three-pointers. Breanna Stewart added 21 points and 15 rebounds, and Gabby Williams scored 11 points.
“Locked in from the jump,” said Seattle coach Noelle Quinn regarding the 28-year-old Loyd. “I think offensively, she was getting to her spots, and she was knocking down the open ones. And, you know, Jewell sees a lot of different defenses, and so when she’s able to get free and have the shots and the looks that she did, when she knocks them down, she’s deadly.”
Seattle, which finished 22-14, had already locked in the No. 4 seed and will open the playoffs at home against the No. 5 Washington Mystics on Thursday. But Quinn noted first order of business will be “just cleaning some stuff up,” namely turnovers, of which the Storm had 18.
“The live-ball ones – you can’t have them,” said Quinn. “At least if we’re gonna turn the ball over, they have to take it up inside so we can set our defense. But that was what that was — careless with the ball and not being poised. We’ve got to eliminate those, especially if it’s going to be a possession-by-possession game.”
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