June 28, 2021
Faith, trust and a little bit of Point Gawd dust
Bill Laimbeer brought Chelsea Gray to Las Vegas for clutch moments like Sunday
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After a tough overtime loss to the Minnesota Lynx on Friday that featured 16 Las Vegas turnovers, the Aces flipped the script in their overtime win over the Seattle Storm Sunday, this time forcing 16 turnovers.
Breanna Stewart was hot from the get-go, as can be expected, and she finished the night with a respectable 35 points and 11 rebounds. But the Aces managed to hold their own thanks to some ball-handling improvements and tenacious, gritty offense.
Not to mention a clutch performance out of the point gawd herself, Chelsea Gray, including a big play to close out the game and secure the win. Head coach Bill Laimbeer says that’s exactly the reason he brought Gray to Sin City.
Gray was unhappy with her game in Vegas’ 90-89 loss to Minnesota Friday night. She put up just 6 points and committed 6 of the team’s 16 total turnovers. That lit a fire under her to turn it around Sunday, and she got it done with 21 points, 7 assists and just 2 turnovers (though, if you ask her, that’s still 2 too many).
Gray looked much more like herself against the Storm. Her signature dime passes were in full effect, she was hitting clutch shots and most importantly, she just looked absolutely fired up.
Things got close in the fourth quarter thanks to a 9-2 Aces lead that put them back on top by one point. That final frame included five lead changes, highlighted by 10 points from Gray, as well as a pair of assists to push the game into overtime.
Then, with just seconds left in the game, Laimbeer had Gray draw up the play and you could hear him over the broadcast run through it with everyone, then ask, “Does that work for you?”
And it definitely worked for Gray, as she drained a 19-footer to seal the deal for the Aces.
“I just wanted to get to my sweet spot, whether I shot it or not,” Gray said of that final play.
That’s the moment Bill Laimbeer has been waiting for since he picked Gray up in the free agency.
“When I talked to her in free agency, I said you make big shots and historically she does,” Laimbeer said after the game Sunday. “I told her in timeout, make the last one what you want. She told me exactly what she wanted, I diagrammed the play to give her space to perform… I’ve been waiting for this moment to come along… I told her before the quarter, she runs the huddle — it’s important for her to show her leadership skills and get out there and make plays happen.”
All season, this team has been on a journey of learning each other and figuring out how to make all the parts work as a whole. Over the last few games, it feels like they’re starting to come together and really gel. But Laimbeer doesn’t think the Aces will find their true identity until the All-Star/Olympic break.
But the fact that Gray had herself a big-time performance down the stretch of this game, and Kelsey Plum is settling into her high-octane groove off the bench, and Liz Cambage is getting more and more comfortable in the paint all shows that this work in progress is heading in the right direction.
This is also a huge series win for the Aces, to come out on top in the regular season over Seattle — a team that swept them in the Finals last year.
“[Bill] challenged me to be better, not just vocally, but leading by example as well,” Gray said after the game. “You saw the indecisiveness in Minnesota and that doesn’t make us better at all, so he challenged me to be better this game… It’s time for us to grow and get better. We’re not where we want to be when we hit playoffs, but we’re making strides to get there.”
Of course, there is still room for improvement. Vegas still committed 12 turnovers Sunday despite strengthening their possessions, which the Storm converted into 13 points. The consistency factor is also not quite there yet for the Aces. Coach Laimbeer called this a really great game for TV but said it wasn’t the most well-played game.
The crowd at The House loved it, the fans at home loved it, the internet said it felt like a playoff game. But according to Laimbeer, the truth is that the team is just flat-out tired and needs rest. On top of that, Cambage has actually been sick the last two games.
This wasn’t the Aces’ smoothest basketball by any stretch, but to see Gray come out and do what she does best and make those clutch plays was a step in the right direction for this team to reach its peak.
Up next, the Aces will head to Los Angeles for back-to-back games against the Sparks, Wednesday, June 30 at 7:30 p.m. PT and Friday, July 2 at 7 p.m. PT.