Sunday, February 25, 2024

Aces vs. Sun Game 1 takeaways: Las Vegas secures dramatic win after DeWanna Bonner’s last-second 3 falls short

The Las Vegas Aces took a 1-0 lead over the Connecticut Sun in the 2022 WNBA Finals with a dramatic 67-64 win in Game 1 on Sunday afternoon. This was the first Finals win in franchise history for the Aces. 

The first few minutes were all Aces, as they came out on fire and quickly built a double-digit lead. Their high-powered offense went stagnant after that opening stretch, however, and the Sun controlled much of the second and third quarters, briefly building an eight-point lead of their own. The Aces regrouped at that point and re-took the lead heading into the fourth.

Vegas clung to that lead the rest of the way, though the Sun never quit in what was a scrappy and physical fourth quarter. After back-to-back steals and layups by Alyssa Thomas to cut the deficit to just three points, the Sun had a chance to tie and send things to overtime on the final possession. DeWanna Bonner was well covered, though, and her 3-point attempt came up short. 

A’ja Wilson led the way for the Aces with another stellar postseason performance, finishing with 24 points, 11 rebounds and four blocks on 6-of-11 from the field. Chelsea Gray wasn’t quite as spectacular as she had been in the first two rounds but still hit some big shots en route to 21 points. Jackie Young was the only other double-digit scorer for the Aces with 11 points. 

Thomas was once again the driving force for the Sun on both sides of the ball, registering 19 points, 11 rebounds, five assists, three steals and three blocks. Jonquel Jones went for 15 points and nine rebounds but was held scoreless in the fourth quarter, while Brionna Jones added 12 points off the bench. 

Here are three key takeaways from the game:

1. Wilson delivers MVP performance

Earlier this week, A’ja Wilson was officially named the 2022 WNBA MVP. She became the youngest multi-time winner (and seventh overall) and the fifth player to win that award and Defensive Player of the Year in the same season. Her performance on Sunday was a clear reminder of why she made two major additions to her trophy case. 

Wilson played a major role in the Aces’ strong start, scoring six of the team’s first nine points within two minutes. That was just the beginning of another highly efficient offensive performance that ended with a game-high 24 points on 6-of-11 from the field and 12-of-13 from the free throw line. 

While she didn’t score much in the fourth quarter — no one did, to be fair — she stepped up on the defensive end to keep her team in front. She had five rebounds and three blocks in the frame, two of the latter denying easy layup opportunities for the Sun. In a low-scoring game where 40 of the Sun’s 64 points came in the paint, her ability to control the restricted area in the closing minutes was vital to the Aces’ win. 

Finishing with 24 points, 11 rebounds and four blocks, Wilson recorded her fourth consecutive game with at least 20 points and 10 rebounds — the longest such streak in the postseason in WNBA history. But perhaps even more impressive than all of that was the way Wilson took control of her team when the Aces were struggling in the middle of the game. 

“I’m just going to be there for my teammates and I feel like I’ve developed relationships and bonds with each one of my teammates to where I know exactly how to talk to them and get the best out of them,” Wilson said. “I’m not going to talk to Chelsea the same way I’m going to talk to Jackie to get what we need out of them, but at the end of the day this is the first time I turned up in time-outs today. I don’t know what it was.”

“You’ve just got to want it and I never understood how important my role honestly was on this team until this year. I just started forming to the leadership role and I can’t do that without my teammates. They trust me and they believe in me to have that say. I think my leadership style is I’m a vocal leader but also very emotional leader but I’m also going to just go out there and hold it down for my team. If that’s a leader, that’s a leader.”

2. Hamby provides a boost

Late in the regular season, All-Star forward Dearica Hamby suffered a bone bruise in her knee and was scheduled to be out two to four weeks. It was unclear when she would be able to return during the playoffs, and how effective she would be after so much time off. 

Though officially cleared late in the semifinals, she played just eight total minutes in Games 3 and 4 against the Storm and recorded two rebounds, two turnovers and two fouls in that time. As a result, it was not surprising that she did not check in during the first half on Sunday. 

But in the middle of the third quarter, with the Aces struggling to find an answer for the Sun’s size and physicality, Hamby was sent to the scorer’s table. She provided an instant impact on both ends of the floor and was instrumental in the Aces closing the quarter on an 11-3 run to re-take the lead, which they would not surrender the rest of the way. 

“She was phenomenal,” Aces head coach Becky Hammon said. “She was ready to go. I just got to the point where I was like, my biggest, baddest beast is sitting over there. I’ve just got to throw her in. They want to play a rough game; she’s my girl.”

“So kudos to her being locked in, and probably even ready to go more mentally than anything. That’s a tough situation. She has not played a lot of minutes, and to just come in and be super solid gives us a lot of flexibility. You saw we went super big on that last defensive possession.”

As Hammon noted, Hamby also checked in for the final possession and played some terrific defense on Bonner to help force a miss. The Aces do not have a replacement for Hamby, and her size and versatility are even more important against this big, physical Sun team. It doesn’t seem like she’ll be back to 100 percent in this series, but if she can give the Aces spurts like she did in Game 1 that gives them a major boost. 

3. Sun still confident despite loss

The Sun have not had an easy path to the Finals. They went the distance in each of the first two rounds and had to win deciding games on the road in Dallas and Chicago; in Game 5 against the Sky, they were down 11 points in the fourth quarter. Every time they’ve faced adversity they have had an answer, though.

It’s not surprising, then, that the Sun remain confident despite the loss. 

“I mean, after this game, we have to have a lot of confidence,” Alyssa 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. So yeah, there’s some things we can clean up. Of course we can make more shots, but overall we played a hard game.”

The Sun’s lack of consistent offense once again plagued them down the stretch, but they were able to impose their will which was a key heading into the series. This was a slow, physical game played largely inside the paint. If the Sun can maintain that style they will have a chance to win this series. 

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