June 16, 2021 

Aces’ chemistry shines despite some rust

"I think we're finally starting to come together "

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Photo via Twitter, @_ajawilson22

It wasn’t the prettiest, but the Las Vegas Aces returned to action after a week-long break with a win Sunday against a young, energetic Dallas Wings team.

From the very positive (a fired-up A’ja Wilson) to the not-so-great (16 turnovers), there’s a lot to unpack from this game.

In talking with head coach Bill Laimbeer before the game, his biggest concern was his team coming out flat after their long lay-off. But the energy was there from the jump for the Aces.

Instead, the rust from the break manifested itself in some sloppy ball-handling and bad shots, but the team’s ever-evolving chemistry was able to shine through and push them across the finish line.

Fire starts with A

In her fourth double-double of the season, what really stood out in A’ja Wilson’s game on Sunday night was her ferocity. Wilson takes a lot of pride in being a leader on this team, and the energy that’s brought onto the court each night begins and ends with her.

And A’ja was fire on Sunday, in all senses of the word. It marked her 41st consecutive regular-season game scoring in double figures, and she tacked on 14 rebounds for good measure, as well as a big-time block.

Of course, the reigning M’VP takes it all in stride, and she knows even though they notched another dub, her team can do better.

“This is a pretty big win for us because Dallas is coming off a win streak, they’re playing very well, they’re energized, they’re young and they crushed us on the O-boards and made us work,” Wilson said after the game. “We’ve still got to do better. We still have so much we need to accomplish and get done on court every possession.”

Seeing Wilson get so hyped after big plays — the emotion on her face, the fist pumps, the attitude — is crucial to this team’s success. It’s trickle-down A’janomics. Whatever energy she brings to her game, her teammates will feed off of it.

And no one is more aware of that than Wilson herself. She’s always hungry for more, and that was extra visible Sunday.

Plum returns to The House

This may sound crazy, but this was Kelsey Plum’s first home game this year. The Aces started their season on the road, and then she went to go play for Team USA in 3×3.

Her quickness was the extra oomph Vegas needed to stay in this game. Her 13 points and ability to get to the free-throw line were big in this close match-up.

Coach Laimbeer had few positive things to say about the game, but he did give praise to Riquna Williams and Plum for their defensive efforts, which helped hold Dallas to 32.5 percent from the field — their lowest percentage of the year.

What they may have lacked in offense or control, the Aces made up for on the defensive end, keeping Arike Ogunbowale and Marina Mabrey to a combined 21 points for the night.

“Riquna Williams played very solid defensive-wise and I thought Kelsey Plum came into the game and picked up the defense,” Coach Laimbeer said. “They made her work for everything she had. She got to the free throw line … I thought both [Williams and Plum] did a hell of a job on it.”

Fans were also thrilled to have Plum back in The House. Las Vegas Raiders head coach Jon Gruden was at the game and he said KP was his favorite player. He even got there early to see her shoot.

“This is my first game back at home, so I missed the fans a ton,” Plum said. “I think we have the best fans in the league. I know everyone thinks that about their fans, but I think that they are. Hopefully, we can continue to get more people in the seats and continue to go.”

The feeling is very mutual, KP.

“This game was like going to the dentist and having a root canal”

Time for the nitty-gritty now. There were stretches of this game where the Aces just didn’t look like themselves. The offense wasn’t as big of a threat as it can be, and even though they managed to keep the energy high, sometimes the pace felt disjointed.

Not to mention those 16 turnovers, which the Wings converted into 21 points.

We didn’t see as much action from the bench as we have in past games. Plum had a big impact, with 13 points (including 5 from the stripe) and a pair of assists, and Hamby hauled in 8 rebounds, but Destiny Slocum and JiSu Park combined for just under five minutes of play, and Joyner Holmes didn’t see any action at all.

The starters were on the floor for a majority of the game, with A’ja only resting for less than five minutes. Even Liz Cambage was on the floor up until the end.

As exciting as it may be for a fan to see Liz drain a three toward the end of the game, Coach Laimbeer doesn’t share the same sentiment.

“I wouldn’t want to see that at the end of the game at all — I want to see them [starters] sitting on the bench because we took care of business during the course of the game,” Coach Laimbeer said of Cambage’s late-game shot from deep. “It never would’ve come down to having to make some shots down the stretch.”

The Aces bench can be just as much of a threat as the starters, as we’ve had games where every available player has put up points and made an impact.

The last time Vegas played the Liberty (W, 94-82), Wilson had a 30-point night, but again we didn’t get peak production from the bench.

With weapons like Betnijah Laney, Sami Whitcomb, Rebecca Allen and even rookie Michaela Onyenwere, the Aces will need everyone to step up and get involved if they hope to beat New York (6-4) in back-to-back match-ups Tuesday night and Thursday night.

You can catch the Tuesday game on ESPN3 at 7 p.m. PT.

Written by Sydney Olmstead

Pac-12 and Las Vegas Aces reporter.

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