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Aces vs storm
Graphic Credit: Trisha LaCoste/Franchise Sports Media

FSM Essential Recap: Aces vs Mercury – Semifinals –  Game 3

Franchise Sports Media

Las Vegas Aces (2-1)  |  Seattle Storm (1-2)

 

In one of the all-time great WNBA playoff games, the Las Vegas Aces defeated the Seattle Storm 110-98 in overtime to take a 2-1 series lead.

 

RECAP:

“Basketball is a game of runs.”

“Basketball is a long game.”

“It’s never over until it’s over.”

Aces vs. Storm - Game 3
Photo Credit: Las Vegas Aces

Take your pick of the infinite basketball cliches, and you’ll likely find a landing spot for it somewhere within Sunday’s wild 45-minute ride of a playoff basketball game. But before Game 3 between the Aces and Storm could get absurd, it was first a plain ole postseason basketball game.

Things couldn’t have gone more according to plan for Las Vegas, in the onset, who had previously watched Seattle dictate the flow of games by racing out to substantial opening-quarter leads in Games 1 and 2. Everything that could have worked for the Aces for much of the first 20 minutes did — Chelsea Gray continued with one of the great postseason runs we’ve seen, A’ja Wilson picked up exactly where she’d left off in her career-defining Game 2 masterpiece, and the Aces‘ defense had rendered the Storm‘s offense ineffective for about 17 minutes en route to a commanding 42-27 edge.

But a half of basketball is not 17 minutes long, it’s 20 minutes, and the final three are responsible for the birth of the absurdity above.

Three minutes was enough time for a game-changing run. In it, Tina Charles and Jewell Loyd did their best Batman and Robin act and scored the Storm’s final 13 points of the quarter, which chopped the Vegas lead down to eight points while simultaneously giving the Climate Pledge Arena crowd of 15,431 something to get loud about. In an instant, Vegas had squandered a nearly perfect half of basketball in three minutes, and when the Storm carried their end-of-first-half run into the third quarter and took a four-point lead, it felt like Vegas was a poor sequence away from completely unraveling.

We’d seen it before. The Aces built up a 15-point first-half lead over the Washington Mystics in the third game of the regular season, only to lose it all in the third quarter en route to a double-digit loss. A similar, but worse, thing happened to Becky Hammon’s squad near the middle of the season when they fumbled a 28-point lead before ultimately falling by nine points to the defending champion Chicago Sky.

And if there was a question of whether we’d witness the Aces let go of the rope once again, they had an answer. Two 3-pointers from Riquna Williams (more on her later) and a crucial shot-clock-beating one from Jackie Young before the game clock ran out on the third frame re-established Vegas‘ place in the Game 3 race, giving visiting Aces a four-point lead going into the final quarter of regulation.

A lot went on throughout the fourth quarter, which is, quite frankly, hard to wrap my head around. In short, the lead seesawed back and forth, and Stephanie Talbot emerged from nowhere to throw some daggers in the Aces‘ direction, only for Riquna Williams to counter with a few of her own. Breanna Stewart also flipped the switch and decided it was time to take over down the stretch, all while Chelsea Gray and A’ja Wilson did their best not to let a golden opportunity slip away, as it did in Game 1. All of the action preceded a final 11.3-second span that you probably wouldn’t believe if you hadn’t witnessed it in real-time.

The series of events:

11.3     –     Jewell Loyd makes two free throws (89-85 SEA)

10.2    –     Riquna Williams makes a 25-foot 3-pointer (89-88 SEA)

7.2      –     A’ja Wilson fouls Tina Charles

7.2      –     Tina Charles misses both free throws (89-88 SEA)

6.9     –      Riquna Williams defensive rebound (89-88 SEA)

6.9     –      Aces timeout

2.7     –      A’ja Wilson driving layup (90-89 LV)

2.7     –      Storm timeout

1.8     –      Sue Bird 22-foot 3-pointer (92-90 SEA)

1.8     –      Aces timeout

0.0     –     Jackie Young makes a layup (92-92)

Probably shell-shocked after having victory unimaginably snatched from its hand, Seattle had minimal fight left in the extra period. Las Vegas, behind Kelsey Plum and Chelsea Gray, outscored the Storm 18-6 in overtime and ran away with a 110-98 victory, stealing Game 3 and placing the Storm on the brink of elimination.

 

 

NOTES:

  • Becky Hammon’s playbook

 

Aces vs. Storm - Game 3
Photo Credit: Las Vegas Aces

The Aces trailed by four points with 11.3 seconds to go and would need perfect execution to even think about tasting victory. Three times, within that time, Vegas needed to rely on its leader to piece together the perfect ATO (After Timeout) play, and she did.

The ATO for a quick Riquna 3-pointer, the iso at the top of the key for A’ja, and the quick-hitter to Jackie under the rim to tie the game were all fantastic calls by Hammon, the 2022 WNBA Coach of the Year. She went DEEP into her bag to keep the Aces alive.

 

  • The Breanna Stewart gameplan

 

Breanna Stewart was unguardable in Games 1 and 2. She got wherever she wanted, whenever she wanted, and lit the Vegas defense up. So, it seemed the Aces‘ game plan for the night was to send two defenders at her each time she caught it in the post. The plan worked somewhat, as Stewart continuously got rid of the ball. However, it led to her recording six assists, primarily to perimeter Storm players camped out at the 3-point line for easy looks.

When Vegas decided to play her straight up, Stewie took advantage of Kiah Stokes down the stretch and almost closed the show single-handedly.

Nevertheless, the game plan had its ups and downs but limited Stewart as a scorer and helped the Aces to a win.

 

  • Riquna’s arrival

Riquna Williams was exceptional under Bill Laimbeer a season ago. As a full-time starter, she contributed as a scorer, a 3-point option, and a primary defender. But her production dipped in 2022 due to injuries and a move to the bench. On Sunday, she turned back the clock right when her team needed it most.  Williams‘ 14 points, three assists, and four threes were a godsend for Vegas, and her final three towards the end of regulation are what put the Aces in a position to win the game.

 

TOP PERFORMERS:

 

Chelsea Gray (Aces): 29 PTS, 5 REBS, 12 ASTS, 1 STL, 1 BLK, 5/9 3PT

A’ja Wilson (Aces): 34 PTS, 11 REBS, 3 STLS, 1 BLK

Kelsey Plum (Aces): 16 PTS, 7 REBS, 7 ASTS

Sue Bird (Storm): 17 PTS, 8 ASTS, 5/9 3PT

Breanna Stewart (Storm): 20 PTS, 15 REBS, 6 ASTS, 1 STL

 

Game 4 of Aces-Storm will take place at Climate Pledge Arena in Seattle on Tuesday, September 6th, at 7 p.m. PST. ESPN2 will have the broadcast.

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-Cole Huff– Franchise Sports Media

Follow Cole on Twitter @ColeHoops

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Photography by TQ for Franchise Sports Media