Professional Basketball

Aces Dominate Mystics, Push Semifinal Game 4

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The Las Vegas Aces used fast play and tough defense to defeat the visiting Washington Mystics, 92-75 in front of 6,175 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas on Sunday evening. With the win, the Aces stave off elimination from the WNBA semifinal round and force a Game 4 and the opportunity to even the series on Tuesday night.

Right from the tipoff, the Aces were ready to play. Aces forward A’ja Wilson forced a quick shooting foul on Mystics forward Elena Delle Donne just 12 seconds into the game. Wilson converted the free throws, which was immediately answered by a three-pointer by Mystics forward Ariel Atkins. The score was 3-2 in favor of the visiting team just 30 seconds into the game.

Neither team had more than a 5-0 run during the remainder of the quarter, which ended with Washington with a 24-23 edge.

The first half of the second quarter continued at the same pace. With 5:27 remaining in the half, Las Vegas scored 12 straight in a 16-4 run to take a 47-37 lead at halftime. The Aces made 10 of their 11 first half free throw attempts.

The Las Vegas defense forced Washington to play a faster paced game and better transition defense. This caused the Aces to go on a 10-2 run in the third quarter to take a 60-43 lead with 6:23 left in the quarter.

Then with 3:06 remaining in the frame and Las Vegas leading 70-52, Aces center Liz Cambage swatted Mystics guard Emma Meesseman in the back of the head while the two were battling in the paint. Meesseman was called for a loose ball foul on the play, which upset Mystics head coach Mike Thibault, who argued about the missed the call on Cambage. Thibault was assessed a technical foul by referee Cheryl Flores.

The Aces lead hung between a 14 and 22 point range in the fourth quarter. The perimeter game for the Mystics wasn’t working and the Las Vegas defense was too tough for a comeback. The Aces won 92-75 and forced a Game 4 set for Tuesday.

“Well we have a series going on. We knew it was a series. I think some people didn’t,” said Aces head coach Bill Laimbeer. “We knew in the first two games that we played with the level of intensity needed to compete. We did the same thing tonight. We got a good win. It’s only one. You can’t win three until you win one. You can’t win three until you win two. That is our next task at home.”

Cambage led all scorers with 28 with Wilson adding 21 and eight rebounds. Washington was led by 22 points from Delle Donne. Meesseman led the Mystics rebounders with 8.

“They played way better than us tonight. It was a physical game, we didn’t shoot the ball anywhere close to the way we did the other night, they did a better job,” said Mystics head coach Mike Thibault. “I thought they got into their post-game better tonight, we didn’t do as good of a job. They put more pressure on us, we didn’t shoot the ball well.”

“We anticipated a duo post situation, our offense is structured around a duo post situation and they did their job tonight. It was nothing spectacular they did tonight. They both went out and did their jobs. That is what they are paid to do,” said Laimbeer regarding the Cambage-Wilson tandem. “We fed them the ball at the right times and that is why they were so successful today. Washington shoots a bunch of jumpshots and a bunch of three’s. We are a team that goes inside and gets to the free throw line. That’s us.”

Las Vegas shot 48.6 percent from the field on 35-for-72 shooting, 6-for-14 in three-point shooting, and 16-for-18 in free throws. Washington shot 38.6 percent from the field on 27-for-70 shooting with 11-for-33 from beyond the arc. They converted 10 of their 12 free throw attempts.

Aces forward A’ja Wilson and Mystics forward Elena Delle Donne battle for a loose ball during the July 5, 2019 regular season game. Both teams meet on Tuesday for Game 4 of the WNBA Semifinal round for the right to play the Connecticut Sun in the Finals. Photo by Jean Suppa/Sportspage Magazine

“They went into A’ja right off the bat. I’ll say that Cambage got a lot of post position where we have some people with bruises on their neck, but she worked hard and worked hard to get the ball,” said Thibault. “I thought there should’ve been some offensive fouls called on her. The fact of the matter is that they didn’t. When you go 12 for 15, it’s a pretty good night.”

Both teams know that they have their work cut out for them for Tuesday’s Game 4.

“We definitely need to get back to the drawing board a little bit but we been great all season long because we’ve been fast, in space, shared the ball, and we’ve moved. We gotta get to that,” said Mystics Delle Donne.

Cambage regrets not being able to have won a game in Washington.

“It would have been nice if we had won in Washington, but we knew coming back here we would have our fans lifting us up. We have our home record. We just had to get the job done tonight,” she said. “And it’s a serious series, playoff series. And that’s the beauty of the brand. And all the mistakes we made in the first couple of games and we really focused on fixing them and getting the job done over here.”

Game 4 will be held Tuesday night at 8 p.m. CT at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas and broadcast on ESPN2. Washington leads the series 2-1. The series winner will play the Connecticut Sun in the WNBA Finals beginning on Sept. 29.

NOTE:
Courtney Cox Cole, who played on the 1991 WNIT runner-up basketball team for Indiana University, passed away Sunday after a battle with cancer at the age of 48. She played for the Noblesville (Indiana) Millers where she was the 1989 Indiana All-Star, USA Today and Parade Magazine 1st team All-American, Gatorade Player of the Year and Dial Award for National High School Athlete Scholar of the Year.

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