June 20, 2021 

Takeaways from Aces’ back-to-back wins over New York

What's coming together for Vegas, and what still needs work

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Photo via Twitter, @LVAces

The Las Vegas Aces had themselves a week in back-to-back wins against the New York Liberty (100-78 on Tuesday, 103-76 on Thursday).

Remember last week when I said Vegas was going to need a more consistent performance from the bench to win these games? Well, that’s exactly what we got.

From Kelsey Plum’s career night on Tuesday to every available Ace scoring on Thursday, the team was feeling themselves this week. They put up 100 or more points in both of these games, which is seen as the benchmark for a high-scoring game in the WNBA and is a good reflection of how efficient (and therefore successful) a team can be.

Scoring 100 points is great, but of course, the game isn’t all about offense. The Aces made their presence known on both sides of the court this week, and that — along with efficient use of their depth — will be critical throughout the rest of the season.

Kelsey Plum is back and better than ever

Assistant Coach Sugar Rodgers said what we saw out of Plum on Tuesday night (career-high 32 points ICYMI) was just the tip of the iceberg.

Plum is well-known as a hard worker and we really saw that come to fruition between Sunday’s game and Tuesday’s game. She played just over 30 minutes of Tuesday’s game, and she didn’t let up for a second, shooting 11-of-16 from the floor, including 3-of-6 from deep. She also made all 7 of her free throw attempts.

But Plum says she’s developed her game beyond her reputation for offensive prowess.

“I’ve tried to develop my game more than just scoring, I try to be impactful in different ways… People can be disappointed that I’m not dropping 30 every night and it’s not because I can’t, it’s because that’s not my role,” Plum said after Tuesday’s game. “I was lucky tonight that it happened to me, but I understand that in the future it might not always look like this.”

Plum also said she thinks the faster pace and shorter shot clock of 3-on-3 may have helped her quicken up her decision-making time and tightened up her focus.

As for the other side of her career-best night, Liberty head coach Walt Hopkins said the effort from the bench was what did New York in.

“Obviously Plum destroyed us, singlehandedly and absolutely destroyed us,” Hopkins said after the game. “And Dearica was fantastic. They were both big-time red flags on the scout. We talked a lot about both of them and their energy and their ability to change a game. And unfortunately, they proved us right.”

And this effort really was just the tip of the iceberg for Plum, that scout could be even scarier moving forward.

It’s all coming together

From the very beginning, A’ja Wilson said it’s one thing to have a star-studded team on paper and it’s another to be able to execute on the court and play good basketball.

Now, she says she thinks the squad is, “finally starting to come together.” And that chemistry is showing in play on the hardwood. When that chemistry falters, it makes a noticeable difference in pace, execution, shots, everything.

The Aces’ greatest weapons right now are their chemistry and their depth. They trust each other, they push each other, they believe in each other and they know what they’re capable of.

Despite being on a five-game winning streak, after almost every win Coach Laimbeer and/or players basically say, “hey a win’s great, but here’s x, y and z we could’ve done better on.”

“We’re still learning each other… We’re trying to figure out who does what and when somebody’s hot to keep riding that horse,” Laimbeer said after Thursday’s game. “We have a lot of offensive weapons… We’re averaging maybe 90 points a game, so we can score. Now, can we defend and take care of the basketball? If we can do all the above, well yeah I really like this basketball team.”

Bill Laimbeer, probably.

Dearica Hamby, who dropped 10 points, hauled in 12 rebounds and dished out 5 assists in Thursday’s win, credits much of the Aces’ success to their depth.

“I think we have the best team one through 12, and Bill’s always done a good job of orchestrating the bench,” Hamby said. “We had a meeting not too long ago about how he envisioned this bench with this team. I think we’ve kind of proven him right tonight, so I’m sure he’s happy.”

There’s also the pre-game walk-in dance videos, the sideline hype and the hilarious antics between players and coaches. This stuff may seem silly, but it’s a key ingredient for a good team.

If the team likes each other and has fun together, they’re going to play better — that’s just science. The Aces have all of that, and now the rest is starting to fall into place.

Like Laimbeer said, it’s going to be the little things like managing turnovers, keeping the defense tight and maintaining that high energy off the bench that will make or break this squad.

Attitude is everything

One thing I’ve noticed in the first month or so of the season is this team’s attitude is very much, “what else can I do to help my team?”

And that’s huge. With Plum coming off of an injury and thriving off the bench, Chelsea Gray coming to a new team and fitting herself into their system, Liz Cambage sacrificing some of her game to step up on defense, Wilson improving her already MVP-worthy play style and so many other examples, it’s obvious this team is willing to do whatever it takes to get to that trophy.

Things the Aces love to see:

  • A different star in each win

  • The bench piling on 40-plus points

  • Unusual, but exciting, performances such as JiSu Park totaling 7 points, 8 rebounds and 3 blocks in 16 minutes, or Wilson/Cambage hitting threes.

The Aces also love having a crowd to play for, and these last few home games you can see just how much they feed off the energy of the fans.

“We got into our bench and they played well and the fans loved it and it was so great having the fans back in the building,” Laimbeer said Thursday night. “That’s going to push our team — they really like playing in front of fans. They want to put on a show, and tonight I thought we put on a pretty good show for them.”

On the other hand, when something is amiss or lacking, the entire team takes it on their shoulders and works to fix it up for the next game.

And yet, they want more.

“I think we’re only at 40 percent of what we can really do,” Liz Cambage said. “I think a lot of people know that, and I think a lot of people are scared of that. We’ve just got to focus on getting some more wins heading into this Olympic break … and then really coming back together and ramping it up.”

Forty percent?? That insatiable hunger for more points, more defense, more everything could take the Aces far this season, and it’s one of their strongest assets.

What’s up next?

Thanks to their five-game winning streak, Vegas is boasting a 10-3 record and sits at second place in the league, under Seattle. The Aces have another long break before they play the Minnesota Lynx (5-6) Friday, June 25.

Written by Sydney Olmstead

Pac-12 and Las Vegas Aces reporter.

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