Aces

Two Big Wins and One Bad Loss in Aces’ First Week

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The Las Vegas Aces were on top of the world. And then they weren’t. 

This week, the Aces played their first three games of the 2022 WNBA season. The Becky Hammon Era started about as well as any Vegas fan could have hoped: two impressive wins over good teams. And then, on Tuesday night in Washington, something changed. 

Game 1: Aces 106, Mercury 88 

On opening night, the Aces looked unbeatable. They took a big lead early in the first quarter and never gave it up. All five Aces starters scored in double figures, with star A’ja Wilson achieving a double-double at halftime. Vegas led by 28 at one point.  

The Aces scored efficiently from all over the floor and easily out-rebounded Phoenix 38-26. Vegas played the type of game many expected from them: fast, spaced-out, and productive. 

The team was dominant in Hammon’s first game as a head coach. Despite the easy win, Hammon gave the team a grade of “B” for their effort. 

“I know what we’re capable of,” said Hammon in postgame interviews, “and that’s why I say ‘B.’ There’s so many things that I know we can do better, and they know it. But overall, don’t get it wrong, it was super fun.” 

The win wasn’t a fluke, but it did come with some caveats: Phoenix was without Diamond DeShields and Brittney Griner. Vegas would have to wait until their second game to face a team at full strength. 

Game 2: Aces 85, Storm 74 

The home opener was not the commanding win that the first game was. But it was more impressive. 

After the Aces established a big lead early, the Storm fought back for the next two quarters, taking a one-point lead at the end of the third. But then Kelsey Plum exploded with 14 of her 18 points in the fourth. Wilson had two huge blocks. And suddenly, the Michelob Ultra Arena was celebrating the team’s first home win. 

The most jarring number to come from the game? The Aces held Seattle to just 16 points in the paint. That feat is challenging, especially when facing an elite big like Breanna Stewart. After the game, Dearica Hamby talked about how successful the Aces’ defense was on Stewart. 

“We made their best player take 20 shots to get 20 points,” Hamby said, “I think that’s a good night.” 

For comparison, Las Vegas scored 42 points in the paint. For the second straight game, every Aces starter had 10+ points. Wilson finished with 20 points, 15 rebounds, and 5 blocks. Hamby grabbed a career-high 19 rebounds. 

Through two games, they had the best offense in the league. Media members were placing Las Vegas at the top of their power rankings. And then came Washington. 

Game 3: Mystics 89, Aces 76 

The third game started much like the first two: The Aces built an early lead thanks to their seemingly unstoppable offense. Plum and Jackie Young had 14 first-half points as Vegas led by double digits at the break. 

The story changed in the second half. The Mystics switched their defensive scheme, and the Aces couldn’t figure it out. In the third quarter, the Aces had seven turnovers and shot 20% from the field. Washington outscored them 24-7 and took the lead with one quarter left.  

Elena Delle Donne was great in the fourth, and again, Vegas struggled to score. Hammon emptied the bench with about three minutes left, ending the game. After the match, she credited Washington’s post defense with making it tough on Vegas. 

“We were getting too deep. So, you can’t make decisions deep in the paint against that kind of congestion and not expect to turn it over.” 

It was a disappointing loss for a squad that looked like the best team in the league after two games.  

Ace Up the Sleeve: Jackie Young 

Young has been excellent in the first week. She’s leading the team in scoring at 19.3 points per game on an efficient .583 shooting percentage. The fourth-year guard has been doing a little bit of everything, guarding multiple positions and staying aggressive on offense. If this is what Vegas is getting from her, the team is in an excellent place.

 

 

Missed Draw: Bench Scoring 

The team has familiarity with bench production; they’ve had three consecutive Sixth Woman of the Year winners (Hamby in ’19 and ’20, Plum in ’21). However, the reserves only provide 11.7 points per game on 33% shooting this season. One can understand the frustration: Kierstan Bell and Aisha Sheppard are rookies, and the team is missing both Riquna Williams (left foot injury) and Kiah Stokes (overseas commitment). But Vegas will need to survive without the starting group on the floor if they want to have postseason success.  

What’s In the Cards?

The Aces will play the Dream in Atlanta on Friday night. So far, Atlanta is 2-0. Hammon is hopeful that Williams will be available to play in the game, per her press comments. After that, the team heads back to Vegas for a four-game homestand. 

About Jack Levenberg

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