September 16, 2022
How the Aces were out-toughed in a blowout Game 3 loss in Connecticut
The Aces will need to improve their mindset if they want to win their first WNBA championship
Closing out a series is not easy. While all the pressure would seem like it is on the team facing elimination, that is when they usually put up the most fight. If you add in the fact the Connecticut Sun were 5-0 this postseason in elimination games and much better at home than on the road in these playoffs, it is no surprise they won Game 3. However, the Sun didn’t just win Game 3, they dominated Las Vegas, 105-76.
The Aces started the game hot up 9-2 but the Sun responded with a 32-10 run to take a 15-point lead at the end of the first quarter and the game was pretty much over at that point. The Aces tried to make a comeback, cutting the deficit to single digits multiple times throughout the game. However, the Sun responded every time. At the end of the day, Connecticut dominated on Thursday night because of one thing; they were more mentally tough than the Aces.
“They just kicked our ass in every way possible. There’s no two ways about it. If there was a stat on mental toughness and physicality, they would have kicked our ass there, too. Connecticut came in with a better mental approach than we did,” Becky Hammon said. “I don’t know if we thought we were just going to show up and they were going to lay down and hand us the trophy, but we should know better by now. That’s a team that is very resilient. If you could encapsulate Connecticut, it’s physical, and very resilient. If you looked at our board, points in the paint, transition, rebounding, take care of the ball, we did none of it.”
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Throughout the game, the Aces fell into the same old habits that have plagued them all season long. As Hammon has said throughout the year, it started on the defensive end but not in a positive way on Thursday. The Aces let the Sun shoot 56% from the field with six Sun players scoring in double figures. Las Vegas’ defense which had been so good in the first two games looked like Swiss cheese in Game 3. They were allowing the Sun to get into the paint easily, they weren’t talking on ball screens and they were giving up second and third chance opportunities.
The paint was a super important factor in this series and the Aces won Game 2 by dominating it. In Game 3, the Sun exposed the Aces in the paint, outscoring them 64-26 around the basket. Jonquel Jones was doing an incredible job of getting deep position down low and sealing defenders out to get easy baskets. This domination was capped off by an alley-oop lob that Natisha Hiedeman had to Jones which she scored between A’ja Wilson and Dearica Hamby. Other Sun players like DeWanna Bonner and Alyssa Thomas were having their way driving into the paint and getting easy layups against the Las Vegas defense.
Another area that was a big point of emphasis for Hammon was the rebounding battle. She said as long as the Aces kept it close, they would be in a good position to win games. In Game 2, the Aces only lost the battle on the boards by three. In Game 4, Connecticut outrebounded them by 15. This included 13 offensive rebounds which led to 18 second chance points. Throughout the game, Connecticut looked hungrier than Las Vegas, beating them to these extra possessions and 50/50 balls. These extra possessions are something Las Vegas cannot afford to give up if they want to close out this series.
“They got to the 50/50 balls. Physicality-wise, we didn’t match that. The energy they played with, specifically Alyssa Thomas, she beat to us a lot of those balls and that’s on us and that will be fixed for Sunday,” said Kelsey Plum.
On the offensive end, the Aces struggled to deal with the Connecticut trapping and hard hedging of ball screens. This is something the Sun did in Games 1 and 2 but they did it at a much higher level with a lot more intensity in Game 3. They were pushing the Aces ball handlers back towards half court with a lot of ferocity and doing a tremendous job of rotating out of the traps behind it. This really stagnated the Aces offense at times and made them take quick shots after only one or two passes.
The trapping and hard hedging also led to the Aces turning the ball over, something they have been pretty good about limiting in these playoffs. The Aces turned the ball over 14 times which led to 26 Sun points. The Sun are a team that thrive off turnovers and getting out in transition. A lot of the Aces turnovers came from passes out of traps that were either too soft or telegraphed where they were going with the ball. This allowed Connecticut to read the Aces players eyes and get easy steals.
“They really trapped Chelsea hard, and we didn’t do a great job, personally, me, like figuring out — getting to those outlets. Becky calls it a 0.5 pass; so making a decision in 0.5 seconds. The ball stuck a lot and that was my fault, I picked up my dribble a lot,” Plum said. “You have to give credit to their defense. They were super aggressive and they full rotated, and they made us hit, like, the third pass. We just didn’t keep the ball moving, and, you know, that’s on me.”
The Aces have a lot to work on if they want to close out this series in Game 4 and travel back home with the trophy instead of for a Game 5. However, a lot of the mistakes they made were things they have done well in the first two games of this series. The main thing is the Aces need to be tougher mentally and physically. The Sun have shown this entire postseason that they are a resilient team. Every one of their series has gone the distance and the Aces are going to need to rise to the challenge if they want to secure that first ever WNBA championship in franchise history.
“It was just energy, energy-wise and we lacked that, and I’m going to take full accountability of that. We lacked energy at the end of the day and you need that coming into a road game like this, with the first road game, and they just had more energy than us. They looked new. They looked fresh. I think that was the biggest difference. They just came out and wanted it more and we can’t be like that. I don’t care what game it is, we can’t be like that at all,” said Wilson.
Written by Matthew Walter
Matthew Walter covers the Las Vegas Aces, the Pac-12 and the WCC for the Next. He is a former Director of Basketball Operations and Video Coordinator at three different Division I women's basketball programs.