The Las Vegas Aces showed off their backcourt strength in a 96-90 home victory against the Phoenix Mercury to open their WNBA semifinal playoff series Tuesday.
The fifth-seeded Mercury will have to slow them down Thursday in Game 2 if they’re going to even the series against the second-seeded Aces before heading home for Game 3 on Sunday.
“I’ve said from day one when I was player a long, long time ago — guards win in playoff games because they can create,” Las Vegas coach Bill Laimbeer said. “If you take away our guards, we go inside. You take away inside, we go to the guards. At the end of the day, we’re hard to guard.”
Riquna Williams scored a game-high 26 points, 14 of which came in the first quarter to help the Aces withstand a slow start. Kelsey Plum dominated in the second half, scoring 20 of her 25 points. Chelsea Gray had 17 points and 12 assists.
The Mercury, who had advanced with two tight victories in elimination games, started fast against the Aces, who had eight days off after earning a double bye.
Phoenix opened a 36-27 lead behind MVP runner-up Brittney Griner. Things turned around when the Aces started doubling Griner, getting more stops and running. Las Vegas produced a 15-2 run and eventually took a 52-49 halftime lead.
“When we’re able to get stops and play in transition like that, we’re very difficult to guard,” Gray said.
Phoenix cut a 10-point deficit with 3:08 left to a four-point margin before Kia Nurse missed a 3-pointer with 9.9 seconds left.
“If a three there goes in, it changes the game,” Mercury coach Sandy Brondello said. “We still competed, but we can learn a lot from the game.”
Griner finished with 24 points and Diana Taurasi had 20 despite playing through an ankle injury. She downplayed a brief exit early in the fourth quarter after aggravating the injury.
“Once you’re out there, you’re out there,” Taurasi said.
–Field Level Media