September 12, 2022
How Dearica Hamby’s 10 minutes helped the Aces defeat the Sun in Game 1
Despite barely playing in the semifinals, Dearica Hamby's play in Game 1 of the 2022 WNBA Finals was the deciding factor in the Aces victory.
LAS VEGAS — With 4:33 remaining in the third quarter, the Las Vegas Aces trailed the Connecticut Sun 50-44 on Sunday afternoon in Game 1 of the 2022 WNBA Finals. The Aces offense was looking sluggish, and they couldn’t grab a defensive rebound to save their lives.
So, Aces head coach Becky Hammon looked to her bench and put in the two-time WNBA Sixth Player of the Year, Dearica Hamby. That moment changed the game completely and ultimately helped the Aces secure a 1-0 series lead.
Upon inserting Hamby, the Aces preceded to go on a 15-5 run over an eight-minute stretch that spanned from the end of the third until midway through the fourth quarter. In that time, Hamby scored two points, grabbed three rebounds and had one steal. While these numbers may not seem like a lot, it was her play that helped sparked the run.
Hamby came into the game with a lot of energy and focus. She was huge on the defensive side of the ball, using her size to help defend the likes of Alyssa Thomas and Jonquel Jones as well as grab rebounds on both ends of the floor. She ran the floor hard and did a good job of finding her open teammates. She capped off the 15-5 run with a gorgeous feed in transition to A’ja Wilson for a layup that forced a Connecticut timeout. She capitalized on her opportunity.
“She was phenomenal. 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,’” Hammon said. “Dearica didn’t get a sniff in the first half and comes out and completely changes the aspect of the game. That’s a pro, first of all, but just being ready to go and it’s a mentality. Her mentality is more of a physical mentality. That’s what we needed. She has not played a lot of minutes, and to just come in and be super solid gives us a lot of flexibility.”
After the stint between the third and fourth quarter, Hamby came in again down the stretch and played excellent defense in the paint. She also was inserted on the final play of the game and helped secure the final stop for the Aces to get the win in Game 1, 67-64.
Even though she didn’t have the biggest impact on the box score, she put a major impact on the Aces momentum. She finished the game with a plus seven in the plus/minus category and her insertion fired up not only the fans but her teammates as well.
“She was huge for us. Came in, energy plays. It’s not going to show in the stat sheet. She was making all the right plays, whether it was a rebound, getting deflections, getting a 24[-second shot clock] violation when she was out there,” said Chelsea Gray. “Just the little things, she sparked it for us and that is where it was a turning point, and we really took control of the game. It was all energy, heart, effort. That’s hard to do. She was cold, too. She didn’t have a warmup where she came into the game. She came in right away and was effective.”
For Hamby, it’s been a month since she originally suffered the right knee contusion against the Atlanta Dream and the time in between hasn’t been easy. Initially, she thought she wasn’t going to play again this season. Her timeline for the injury was that she would be out at least two to four weeks. Her first game back was Game 3 against Seattle in the semifinals.
Against Seattle in the semifinals, Hamby played just eight minutes over Game 3 and Game 4. All of this comes after Hamby had been moved from the starting lineup to the bench the game before she got injured. She had talked with Becky Hammon before Game 1 of the Finals about how she may not play at all in the first game and possibly the whole series, but it was her played that turned this specific game around for the Aces.
“I’m excited to be back and healthy. I don’t necessarily have expectations. Right now, I just want to do whatever it takes to win and play zero minutes. 10 minutes is play as hard as I can. I want to do that,” said Hamby. “I think I’m a pretty physical player … I enjoy that kind of style of basketball. I think the crowd, to come back and feel so loved and I know I was kind of missed. I think that kind of gave me a little bit more motivation.”
With a series with that had so many storylines, it would be a player that hasn’t played much that becomes an X-factor. Going into this series, much was being made of the fact that Curt Miller, the Connecticut Sun head coach, had been one of Becky Hammon’s coaches in college at Colorado State. Miller also reminded the media pregame that on draft night in 2016, Chelsea Gray was traded from Connecticut to Los Angeles for the draft rights to Jonquel Jones. Both of those relationships and connections have now come full circle as Miller and Hammon coach their stars in Gray and Jones looking for their franchises first ever WNBA championship.
However, in Game 1 of the Finals, it was the performance of the Aces’ longest-tenured player that keyed Las Vegas’ comeback victory and helped them secure their first ever win in the Finals.
She will now likely play a big factor in the rest of this series thanks in large part to her size, physicality and ability to run the floor. With a championship on the line, the Aces will need to have all their weapons ready to go and Game 1 helped to reload one that had been out of commission for a while.
“I’ve been trying to get the mental side back of things because that kind of checked. I didn’t think I was coming back this season,” Hamby said. “So, to literally as KP (Kelsey Plum) says, ‘Pick your nose for three weeks,’ then wake up one day and decide you’re going to contribute and play in the playoffs and hopefully get out of that and play in the Finals.
“It’s tough, but I’ve done it. I did it. If I can play more, I’ll continue to play more you are more and whatever’s needed each game I’ll do.”
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.