A’ja Wilson propels Aces past Sun in home-and-away opener

LAS VEGAS — A’ja Wilson is coming for Finals MVP.

The newly crowned league MVP and Defensive Player of the Year went all out as the No. 1-seeded Las Vegas Aces pushed her team to a 67-64 win over the No. 3 Connecticut Sun in Game 1 of the WNBA Finals in front of a record 10,135 fans at the Michelob ULTRA Arena on Sunday afternoon. Game 2 takes place Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET in Las Vegas.

It was the first career victory for Wilson and the Aces players who remain on the 2020 team who were storm-swept away from Seattle in the bubble.

“It was a game we needed. It was a game we needed, not necessarily because, oh, it’s our first win,” Wilson said. “It’s because it’s something that’s huge for us. They’re sort of tie-breaking games, and when you’re playing against a good team like Conn, you really have to lock yourself in at all costs.”

Wilson, backed by a frenzied fan base who chanted “MVP” on her free throw attempts, scored 24 points and added 11 rebounds in a highly competitive game. The Aces also needed every single one of his points as apart from Chelsea Gray the team was struggling to get off to a good start.

Gray had 21 points and three assists. Jackie Young added 11 points. While her stat line may not have appeared, Dearica Hamby’s impact on the pitch has been felt – and needed. She battled a bone bruise in her right knee and played sparingly in the semis. His 11 minutes in game 1 of the final gave the Aces another dimension.

“He’s a pro, first of all, but just being ready to go and that’s a mentality. His mentality is more of a physical mentality. That’s what we needed, so that’s what we gave them. said,” Aces coach Becky Hammon said of Hamby.

Las Vegas Aces forward A’ja Wilson smiles during the fourth quarter of Game 1 of the 2022 WNBA Finals against the Connecticut Sun at Michelob Ultra Arena in Las Vegas on September 11, 2022. (Lucas Peltier/USA TODAY Sports)

How the Aces Won Game 1

The Aces built a 12-point lead in the first half before the Sun tipped in their favor. The Sun’s physical play stagnated the Aces’ offense and ball movement in the second quarter. Las Vegas got no assists in the second quarter and only eight for the game.

It was exactly the kind of basketball the Sun wanted to play. And that’s what presented the most matchup problems for the Aces.

Connecticut settled in during the second period, disrupting Las Vegas’ offensive flow and making it “muddy,” as Hammon called it pregame.

“Give credit to their defense and give credit to our absence. I thought it was a bit of both,” Hammon said after the game. “But they’re a tough team. That’s where they like the score to be, and we’ll go back and watch the movie and make some adjustments.”

The Sun harassed the Aces with deflections, and their teeming defense held the Aces to just nine points in the second quarter as the Sun took a 38-34 halftime lead. Sixth-placed player of the year Brionna Jones was a first-half winner for the Sun, scoring 10 of her 12 points before halftime.

The Aces made the necessary adjustments after a halftime speech from Hammon which she called a “bed”. From there, the Aces retired and never trailed in the fourth quarter.

“I was on. Because everything we talked about, we didn’t do anything about it. And true to form, they just got up and did it then,” Hammon said. “…When you go out and you don’t execute it, it’s frustrating. But at the end of the day, they know it. They’re smart. They understand. But they had us beat in every category of hustle , and that can’t happen. You can’t lose a championship or a game or a quarter because of the hustle. It can never happen.

The Aces built an eight-point lead with 2:40 remaining in the game before Connecticut forward Alyssa Thomas scored six points, four on Las Vegas turnovers. Thomas finished with 19 points and 11 rebounds.

The Sun had one last chance to tie the game and send it to overtime, but DeWanna Bonner’s off-leg triple was called off.

Las Vegas Aces forward A'ja Wilson looks for a shot between Connecticut Sun center Brionna Jones (42) and forward Alyssa Thomas (25) during the first half of Game 1 of the Las Vegas Finals WNBA 2022 on September 11, 2022 in Las Vegas.  (AP Photo/LE Baskow)

Las Vegas Aces forward A’ja Wilson looks for a shot between Connecticut Sun center Brionna Jones (42) and forward Alyssa Thomas (25) during the first half of Game 1 of the Las Vegas Finals WNBA 2022 on September 11, 2022 in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/LE Baskow)

What to look for in game 2

Las Vegas guard Kelsey Plum struggled, missing his first eight shots before a 3-pointer with 4:30 to go. Plum averaged 20.2 points per game in the regular season and had just six in Game 1. Wilson and Gray scored 45 of the Aces’ 67 points.

The Aces shot just 39.7% from the field, down from 48.3% for the season. They are averaging 88.7 points per game this season, leading the league. The Sun likes to mess things up and keep scores low. They did just that and nearly stole the first game on the road.

The Aces will need their powerful offense to click in Game 2. The Sun’s style presents many problems for the Aces, and it showed on Sunday.

Connecticut, meanwhile, would like Game 2 to look a lot like their defense and second-period “mud” from Game 1. However, the Sun also need to find a better offensive rhythm and maintain it for longer periods. .

“The second quarter was huge for us, but we left some points there,” Sun coach Curt Miller said. “There were times when I thought we had really good offensive possessions and missed a few shots that we are capable of, to really try to create some separation before half-time, and that doesn’t didn’t happen.”

WNBA Finals Schedule

Game 1: Las Vegas 67, Connecticut 64 (ace lead, 1-0)

Game 2: Connecticut at Las Vegas, 9 p.m. ET Tuesday (ESPN)

Game 3: Las Vegas at Connecticut, 9 p.m. ET Thursday (ESPN)

Game 4: Las Vegas, Connecticut, 4 p.m. ET Sept. 18 (ESPN)*

Game 5: Connecticut at Las Vegas, 9 p.m. ET Sept. 20 (ESPN)*

* – if necessary

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