LAS VEGAS — It was physical, it was fast and it was just what the Las Vegas Aces needed as the WNBA Finals moved to Connecticut.
The No. 1-seeded Aces battled their way to an 85-71 victory over the No. 3 Connecticut Sun on Tuesday in Game 2 at Michelob Ultra Arena in front of a record 10,211 fans to take a lead. 2-0 in the series. They could clinch their first WNBA championship in Game 3 on Thursday (9 p.m. ET, ESPN) in Connecticut. Since the WNBA moved to a best-of-five finals format, every team that took a 2-0 series lead has fought their way to a title.
A’ja Wilson and Chelsea Gray continued their torrid playoff series.
Wilson had his 10th playoff double-double with 26 points and 10 rebounds. She has now scored 20+ points and grabbed 10+ rebounds in five straight playoff games, a WNBA record. The forward has already won league MVP and Defensive Player of the Year honors this season and now has one victory since her first title. She is firmly in contention for Finals MVP.
Gray had 21 points, eight assists and three steals. She briefly left the game and went to the locker room in the second half with what appeared to be an ankle injury after hitting the field hard under the basket. She returned soon after and was a major factor in the dominant Aces victory.
A game after Kelsey Plum failed to score until the last quarter, she scored a goal in Game 2. She finished with 20 points and seven assists. Wilson, Gray and Plum scored 67 of the Aces’ 85 points. They are the third line in WNBA playoff history with at least 20 points in multiple games.
“A lot of times I’m hard on myself and feel like I got a little frustrated with the way I played throughout the playoffs. I’m glad they wore it and I decided to join the party,” Prune said.
A back-and-forth first quarter swung in favor of the Aces after a timeout with the score tied at 14-14. Dearica Hamby and Riquna Williams entered the game for the Aces, who picked up seven points while the Sun turned the ball over twice in the span. From there, whenever the Sun made a run, the Aces had an answer.
“If we can keep our mindset and our composure in the first quarter and set the tone, that will help us later,” Wilson said. “But I’m amazed at how far we’ve come through the season because there will be fourth quarters where it’s like wow, and others, what the world. So I’m very happy where we are, but we’re not done yet. We still have to keep moving forward and we still have to take care of some things. It’s very important for us to come out the way we do.”
Jackie Young was also injured when she was inadvertently hit with an elbow to the face which drew blood. Officials missed the call in the loose ball rush.
The match started off a bit ominously as the teams seemed unsure which hoop to start after the opening tip.
How the Aces Won Game 2
In Game 1, the Sun dictated the pace of play and made it a “muddy”, low-scoring defensive battle. In Game 2, the Aces flew up and down the court, pushing the tempo.
Wilson and Gray carried the offensive charge in the playoffs, and Plum’s score made a huge difference on Tuesday. She’s found other ways to impact the game when her shot doesn’t drop, but that shot is desperately needed when the Sun is keeping things tight.
“There were things she was still doing that kept her grounded and I think that’s also the growth, not just like, she’s back and she’s hitting punches. She’s been like what we needed let her be. We need her out there on the floor,” Gray said. “At the end of the day, you can’t help her. I don’t care if it’s 1 for 20, 1 for 8, you can’t help it because you know it’s coming back. And she hit a big shot for us last game at the 3-point line in the split in the second half, and we trust her with that.
Game 3 is Thursday, and with only a day off and a cross-country flight, it could be a mucky defensive battle. The Aces have shown in the first two games of the series that they can win in this environment or when they are able to play their brand of high-flying offensive basketball.
What the Sun must do to avoid elimination
Jonquel Jones led the Sun with 16 points and 11 rebounds, and Courtney Williams had 18 points and five assists. Good, but no big stats against an Aces team that can rack up points and pressure.
DeWanna Bonner struggled offensively in the playoffs and was 1 of 9 from the field on Tuesday. She is 2 of 18 from the field in the final for five points. The Sun desperately needs his shot to start falling. She has a plethora of playoff experience, rising to third all-time in playoff games played (71). This experience is useful in other ways, but the attack is also nice.
The Sun had a long field goal drought in the first half, 6:42 of game action, when the Aces took control of the game. They can’t have a similar drought at home in Game 3.
“We’re taking it one game at a time. That’s all we can do,” Jones said. “We’re going to go home, like you said. We’re going to have our fans behind us, who’ve been with us all season, and we’re going to use that to propel us to a win and that’s all. what we can do.”
WNBA Finals Schedule
Game 1: Las Vegas 67, Connecticut 64
Game 2: Las Vegas 85, Connecticut 71 (Aces lead, 2-0)
Game 3: Las Vegas at Connecticut, 9 p.m. ET Thursday (ESPN)
Game 4: Las Vegas at Connecticut, 4 p.m. ET Sunday (ESPN)*
Game 5: Connecticut at Las Vegas, 9 p.m. ET Sept. 20 (ESPN)*
* – if necessary
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