Another game, another thriller between the Las Vegas Aces and Seattle Storm. After an unbelievable end to regulation, the Aces pulled away in the final few minutes of overtime for a 110-98 win in Game 3 and took a 2-1 lead in this best-of-five semi-final series.
Early on, it appeared the Aces were finally going to have one of their dominant offensive games and run away with things. But after going down by 15 points in the first half, the Storm regrouped and played much better after the break. By the fourth quarter, it turned into another back-and-forth showdown between two of the league’s best teams.
After Jewell Loyd hit two free throws with 11.9 seconds remaining to push the Storm’s lead to four, it appeared they were going to secure a massive comeback victory. No one was prepared for what came next. An entire game’s worth of drama unfolded in the next five possessions.
First, Riquna Williams hit a 3-pointer to cut the Aces’ deficit to one. Then, after Tina Charles missed two free throws on the other end, A’ja Wilson scored on a spinning layup to put the Aces ahead by one. The fact that Wilson got away with an obvious travel on the play was quickly forgotten because Sue Bird answered with a 3-pointer to flip the lead again. Up two with 1.8 seconds to play, it again seemed like the Storm would escape. Instead, Jackie Young scored at the buzzer to send the game to overtime.
It was all Aces in the extra frame, as they got one of the biggest wins in franchise history. A’ja Wilson was spectacular once again, finishing with 34 points and 11 rebounds on 14-of-20 from the field. Chelsea Gray, meanwhile, put up 29 points, five rebounds and 12 assists in another clutch playoff performance. Riquna Williams also stepped up off the bench to add 14 points, five rebounds and three assists.
Breanna Stewart got off to a slow start, but came alive in the second half. Her three consecutive baskets in the closing minutes of the fourth quarter may have won the game for the Storm on another day. As it was, her 20 points, 15 rebounds and six assists came in defeat. Sue Bird, who also thought she had a game-winner, finished with 17 points and eight assists.
Here are three key takeaways from the game:
1. All-time ending to regulation
The first two games of this series had some fun finishes, but they are completely forgettable when compared to Game 3. There’s no risk of being a prisoner of the moment after this one; the end of regulation is one of the most exciting stretches of basketball we’ve ever seen in a playoff game. So much so that it’s worth going through in full detail.
We’ll pick things up with 11.3 seconds remaining. Jewell Loyd made two free throws to push the Storm’s lead to four points, and the Aces called a timeout to advance the ball. Aces head coach Becky Hammon told the team in the huddle that they needed a 3-pointer, and drew up a perfect play for Riquna Williams, who buried the shot to cut the deficit to just one point.
The Storm were not in the bonus at that point, so the Aces had to foul multiple times before they sent the Storm to the free throw line. On the second inbounds, they successfully forced the ball into Tina Charles, who stepped to the line and bricked both free throws.
Still down just one with 6.9 seconds left, the Aces dailed up a play for A’ja Wilson. This is where things got controversial. Wilson caught the ball at the top of the key and spun her way to the basket for a layup. In the process, however, she clearly got away with a few extra steps. The refs did not call a travel on the play, and such calls cannot be reviewed, so the points stood.
The referees’ mistake was quickly forgotten, though, as the Storm came up with an immediate answer on the other end. Breaking free after a timeout, Sue Bird buried a 3-pointer in the corner to flip the score back in the Storm’s favor with 1.8 seconds remaining.
Bird’s 3 seemed like it would be the game winner, and probably should have been considering the Aces barely had time to catch and shoot. But for reasons unknown — perhaps a fear of fouling — Ezi Magbegor put her hands down and did not contest Jackie Young’s attempt, which sank through after the buzzer sounded and sent the game to overtime.
2. Wilson makes history with another 30-point outing
A’ja Wilson had a rough time in Game 1, as the Storm sent extra defenders her way and refused to give her any space to operate. She failed to even reach double figures, and finished with eight points on 3-of-10 from the field. Since then, she has been unstoppable.
In her second consecutive 30-point outing, she put up 34 points and 11 rebounds on 14-of-20 from the field. Her controversial layup in the closing seconds shouldn’t overshadow how special she was in Game 3; it was a near-perfect performance and a reminder of why she’s one of the leading candidates for MVP.
The Aces once again played more small-ball with Wilson at the five, which made it tough for the Storm to send extra defenders. Allowed to operate in space, Wilson picked the Storm apart with a series of driving layups, jumpers and putbacks around the basket; she was 9-of-10 in the restricted area in this game.
Prior to this series, Wilson had seven 30-point games in her career, all in the regular season. Now, she’s not only recorded her first 30-point playoff game, but has scored 30-plus in consecutive games for the first time in her career. In the process, she became the first player in WNBA history to have 30 points and 10 rebounds in consecutive playoff games.
Even more impressive is that she’s done so after that disastrous Game 1. She didn’t let that outing dictate how the series would go, and has now helped her team turn things around.
3. Gray does it again
Ever since she was snubbed from the All-Star Game, Chelsea Gray has been on another level. In the playoffs, in particular, she has been historically great. Game 3 was more of the same, as she put up 29 points, five rebounds and 12 assists on 12-of-21 from the field.
As per usual, she hit some clutch shots when it mattered most. With a minute left in regulation she tied things up with a patented pull-up jumper. Then, in overtime, she put the game away by scoring eight straight points. Her 3-pointer with 2:06 remaining to extend the Aces’ lead to six was the dagger.
For the playoffs, Gray is now averaging 22.6 points, four rebounds and 7.2 assists on 63.8/62.1/100 shooting splits. Even if you want to point out that it’s only been five games, those are outrageous numbers. The shot-making, especially, has been out of this world.
She’s leading all players in field goal percentage in the playoffs despite most of her shots being pull-ups from the mid-range and 3-pointers. Look at that shot chart, it seems fake.