The Washington Post

Wilson sparks win in electric Game 1

- BY KAREEM COPELAND

las vegas — The party got started early Sunday. A sold-out, record crowd of 10,135 waved towels and roared as pyrotechni­cs shot fire in five directions during introducti­ons and “We Be Clubbin’ ” blared. Screams rained down as A’ja Wilson was presented her second MVP trophy at center court.

And all of that came before Wilson convinced the crowd to offer multiple standing ovations with a spectacula­r performanc­e in Game 1 of the WNBA Finals. The “M-V-P! M-V-P!” chants came regularly.

Wilson put up a gaudy stat line of 24 points, 11 rebounds, four blocks and two steals as the Aces prevailed, 67- 64, to take a 1- 0 lead over the Connecticu­t Sun in the best-of-five series. She turned the Michelob Ultra Arena stands into a raucous scene that seemed right at home on the Strip.

“It was a game we needed,” Wilson said. “It was a game we needed not necessaril­y because, oh, it’s our first win. It’s because . . . this is huge for us. These are statement games in a way, and when you are playing a good team like [Connecticu­t], you have to really lock in at all costs.”

Chelsea Gray added 21 points and three assists and Jackie Young had 11 points for the Aces, who shot just 39.7 percent. Alyssa Thomas led the Sun with 19 points, 11 rebounds, five assists and three steals. Jonquel Jones scored 15 points to go with nine rebounds, and Brionna Jones had 12 points off the bench.

Before the game, Aces guard Kelsey Plum put it plainly: “Don’t tiptoe into a bar fight.”

The Aces stepped into the ring swinging — and stormed to a 21-9 lead as Wilson, Gray and Young

WNBA FINALS Game 2: Sun at Aces Tomorrow, 9 p.m., ESPN

scored all 21. But the Sun, which loves to muddle up the game, managed to hang around after that initial, emotional push from the Aces. Offensive rebounds and points in the paint gave Connecticu­t the spark it needed to go on a 19-7 run in the second quarter and take its first lead. The Aces, who had the league’s top scoring offense, managed just nine points in the second quarter, and their 67 points for the game were 23 fewer than they averaged during the regular season.

The Sun outscored the Aces 40-22 in the paint and grabbed 13 offensive rebounds. Wilson and Coach Becky Hammon — who said she was “lit” at halftime, when Connecticu­t led 3834 — made sure that wasn’t enough.

“Everything we had talked about, we didn’t do any of it,” Hammon said of the first half. “And true to form, they just step up and do it then. I don’t even yell in my real life, but when you feel so strongly about how you have to play a certain way — and I feel very strongly offensivel­y and defensivel­y about how we have to play — when you go out there and you don’t execute it, it’s frustratin­g. But at the end of the day, they know it. They are smart. They get it. But they had beat us in every hustle category, and that can’t happen. You can’t lose a championsh­ip or a game or a quarter on hustle. That can never be the case.”

The Aces regained their footing after halftime, when Wilson went back to work. An 11-3 stretch to close the third quarter gave Las Vegas a 55-53 lead heading into the fourth.

“Halfway through the third, I felt still really we were in a good position,” Sun Coach Curt Miller said. “In the second half of that third quarter, they started to make some difficult shots, and we could not find any kind of offensive rhythm and missed some shots we were certainly capable of, forced some shots and got stagnated by their defense.”

Las Vegas pushed its lead to 66-58; the arena was deafening when Young hit a floater with 2:40 left. A pair of steals and layups by Thomas cut the Sun’s deficit to three with 34.2 seconds left, but Dewanna Bonner missed a three-point attempt on the final possession that would have tied it.

The were defensive lapses from the Aces, but Gray took a key charge down the stretch that seemed to energize her teammates.

The Sun was disappoint­ed with the results but happy with the way it played with Game 2 up next Tuesday night.

“We have to have a lot of confidence,” Thomas said. “I mean, this is a three-point game, and we had a chance to tie. I think we are very confident, and we know that all you need is one — and then there’s two games at our place.”

 ?? L.E. BASKOW/ASSOCIATED PRESS ?? Las Vegas’s A’ja Wilson, here guarded by Connecticu­t’s Brionna Jones, left, and Alyssa Thomas, notched 24 points and 11 rebounds.
L.E. BASKOW/ASSOCIATED PRESS Las Vegas’s A’ja Wilson, here guarded by Connecticu­t’s Brionna Jones, left, and Alyssa Thomas, notched 24 points and 11 rebounds.
 ?? Ethan MILLER/GETTY IMAGES ?? Chelsea Gray scored 21 points as the Aces opened the WNBA Finals with a 67-64 win against the Sun.
Ethan MILLER/GETTY IMAGES Chelsea Gray scored 21 points as the Aces opened the WNBA Finals with a 67-64 win against the Sun.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States