The top-seeded Las Vegas Aces took care of business Saturday night vs. the Phoenix Mercury, smothering the No. 8 seed with a 117-80 victory and closing out their first-round, best-of-three series 2-0.
“Obviously happy to put a team away,” said first-year Las Vegas coach Becky Hammon, who’s aiming to lead the Aces to their first WNBA title. “It’s always hard to put a team away.”
Chelsea Gray led Las Vegas with 27 points, eight assists and three rebounds in 25 minutes, while Kelsey Plum added 22 points and four rebounds. Four other players scored in double figures including starters A’ja Wilson (17 points) and Jackie Young (15), while Riquna Williams and Kierstan Bell each scored 11 off the bench.
Balanced shooting translated to several new lines in the record books for the Aces, whose 23 made three-pointers marked a WNBA playoffs record. Las Vegas knocked down 11 threes in the first half, which set a new playoffs record en route to a 63-44 halftime lead. The Aces also set a WNBA playoff record by making their first 10 shots from the field and tied a playoff record by making their first seven three-pointers in a game.
Hammon, however, was much more impressed with a different line on the stat sheet: “Probably my favorite stat of the night is 31 assists on 41 field goals, because it’s been around a year that I’ve been really preaching to them, you know, ‘When we share everybody gets more,'” she explained. “I know it seems counterintuitive — the more you give away, the less you have. But it’s actually the opposite: The more you give, the more you’ll get back because you’re one set of hands giving, but there’s four giving back to you.”
The Aces’ 31 assists marked the most in a postseason game in franchise history and the third most in WNBA playoff history, and their 64.1-percent shooting from the field was the second highest in WNBA playoff history.
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“I think right now, as a team, we’re playing our best basketball on both ends,” said Wilson, who set a new mark Saturday as the franchise leader for rebounds in the playoffs after reaching 170. “Like, you want to peak at the right time, and for me individually, that’s what I’m feeling. I’m just putting the work in, after practice and after shootaround, just staying composed.”
The depleted Mercury were led by forward Kaela Davis, who came off the bench to score 23 points and six rebounds in 30 minutes. Diamond DeShields added 21 points but committed six of Phoenix’s 13 turnovers.
“I’m just really proud of this group,” first-year Phoenix coach Vanessa Nygaard told reporters after the game. “They were they were locked in, and we won some really important games when we really needed to, when we were really behind and didn’t have a lot of people and was just really great to see that. And it just totally ran a little bit out of gas and kind of hit a buzzsaw there from the three-point line.”
It was a disheartening end to Phoenix’s season, which suffered another setback Friday when it was announced that starting guard Shey Peddy had ruptured her right Achilles tendon and would be out indefinitely.
Peddy was hurt Wednesday during their 79-63 loss in Game 1 of the series. The fourth-year WNBA veteran, who started 24 games this season and averaged 9.9 points and 3.8 rebounds per game, went down on a non-contact play in front of the Mercury bench during the third quarter and had to be carried off the court.
“This is a really big blow,” Nygaard said Friday. “Injuries are so hard for athletes, so to see one of their close friends get injured right in front of them, that’s traumatic.”
The Mercury suffered more than their fair share of disappointment this season, beginning with the detainment of center Brittney Griner in Russia since February. In June, center Tina Charles agreed to a “contract divorce” from the team, and more recently, star guard Diana Taurasi suffered a quad injury and has sat out the last six games. Additionally, the team has been without six-time All-Star guard Skylar Diggins-Smith since the last week of the regular season due to personal reasons.
“They have great fight; they have great, grit,” Nygaard added after the game. “They’re hearty, they’re tough — all those things. We know also that it’s sports, and there’s bigger things in life to be mindful of. A hard as our season was, it’s not as hard as BG’s experience right now, being in a Russian jail. So we try to keep all that in perspective, but this is just a game. There’s a lot of things that people have in their lives that are a lot harder than this.”
The Aces swept the Mercury this season, 5-0, winning the regular-season series 3-0. They’ll next play in a best-of-five semifinal series beginning Sunday, Aug. 28, where they’ll face either the No. 4-seeded Seattle Storm or No. 5 Washington Mystics. The Storm lead their first-round series 1-0, with Game 2 set for Sunday afternoon.
As to how Las Vegas will prepare for their next matchup, Wilson said: “It can be looking different for everybody, but I know we’re going to get in the gym, we’re going to get up and down, just keep doing us. I think that’s the biggest thing: You can’t change anything now. We’ve already laid the foundation down. So we’re just going to continue to do what we’ve been doing.”
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