Aces turnaround to host Lynx on Sunday, see Storm again on Tuesday
The Las Vegas Aces held the Seattle Storm scoreless for six minutes in the fourth quarter but were unable to complete the fourth-quarter comeback without All-Star A’ja Wilson. Wilson left the game in the third with an ankle injury and did not return.
The Aces fell behind 12-4 then 17-6 in the opening minutes, committing nine of their 21 turnovers in the opening period.
“We just had to keep working. Once again, we put ourselves in a hole,” Liz Cambage said postgame. “I don’t know what it’s gonna take for us to not use the first couple of quarters as a warm-up and just come out ready to play. But coming out like that, having 21 turnovers, we’re not gonna win games like that no matter how hard we play. We’ve just gotta work it out.”
“They didn’t do anything we didn’t expect,” Aces head coach and president of basketball operations Bill Laimbeer added. “We threw the ball all over the gym and made some really horrendous turnovers. 21 turnovers—we can’t do that and expect to win on the road.”
Jewell Loyd (ankle) played eight minutes off the bench, making her first appearance since injuring the ankle June 25 in Las Vegas—a game the Aces won narrowly even as the Storm only got three minutes from the All-Star guard.
Tuesday’s game could look much different than the first two meetings for both teams. Loyd returning to form would help the limited Storm hurting for scoring that struggled to create good looks in the halfcourt, especially in crunch time.
Laimbeer noted postgame that Wilson appears to have a high ankle sprain. With the All-Star game right around the corner, the injury may force the team and the All-Star captain to view the weekend primarily as an opportunity to rest as the Aces host the weekend’s festivities.
With or without Wilson, Friday’s game presented issues the Aces will need to address for Tuesday’s rematch.
Sending two at Liz
From the jump, the Storm were aggressive in sending a second defender at Cambage on the catch. The best options were to hit the other big through a tight passing window diving to the rim or find somebody on the opposite side with a skip pass.
Both are much easier said than done with 6’6” Mercedes Russell and 6’4” Natasha Howard bearing down before getting a chance to turn and face.
One of Cambage’s easiest buckets of the game occurred with Wilson making the entry pass near the foul line.
Cambage makes even Russell look small and powerless at times. That early work to secure deeper position before the catch and go up with the shot quickly will be her best shot at wreaking more havoc at the rim—something the Aces will need if Wilson misses time.
Because the Storm were often using their other big to double Cambage, using that player to make the entry pass may make it more difficult for the help to arrive in time.
It’s important to note that Howard may be the league’s very best in this kind of role, bolting to double Cambage and get that head start to get up to alter and block some shots.
Dearica Hamby would be expected to step into starter’s minutes in Wilson’s absence. If she’s willing to take more of these shots, that’d be some of the lowest-hanging fruit should Seattle deploy the same strategy.
Vegas sloppiness meets Seattle’s pressure
Beyond the sheer volume, the nature of the Aces’ turnovers continues to be worrisome. The Storm racked up 18 steals, fueling more transition opportunities for a team that you knew would struggle at times in the halfcourt without Loyd at full strength.
Seattle selectively dialed up some fullcourt pressure resulting in some ugly turnovers.
The Aces over-dribbled at times with help eager to dig down and swipe at the ball.
Hamby threw an outlet away and later got ripped by Jordin Canada, forgetting she had been standing right behind her the whole time.
Kelsey Plum threw the ball away in the closing seconds of the half, then lost track of the clock and punted on a final chance to push for a shot attempt in the closing seconds.
Generally, the Storm were also successful in the halfcourt keeping the ball on that side of the floor when the Aces tried to get any two-player actions going from the wing—cutting into Kayla McBride’s effectiveness and opportunities to get up more shot attempts.
Storm guards stunt hard looking to steal the first swing pass. Unless you get the ball out right away, a dangerous skip with two people right in your face is often the only option.
Plum was on the money with one skip early in the game to Jackie Young, and Camabge found Sugar Rodgers for an inside-out 3-pointer. Aces guards need to be ready to immediately get it out or hit that skip pass to attack Seattle’s pressure.
Hamby starts the second; farewell to big lineup for now?
Laimbeer was visibly frustrated with Plum’s handling of the final 30 seconds of the half. He started Hamby in her place to open the third.
“I needed some energy in the game,” he said postgame. “I needed a mismatch that I could maybe count on to get a couple easy buckets, and that’s why I put Hamby in there.”
And he got one of those easy buckets early. Playing Hamby at the 3 forced one of Seattle’s wings, either Sami Whitcomb or Alysha Clark, to guard her. Hamby ducked in on Whitcomb from the corner for an easy bucket.
Hamby was also involved in a key play late. She came away with a steal and breakaway layup opportunity that would have tied the game. She missed the contested look, and the Aces were not pleased with the non-call.
“I don’t know how the referees didn’t call that foul on a breakaway layup,” Laimbeer said. “Her arm is all scratched up. How they can swallow the whistle at that point in the game just because there’s a big crowd yelling, it doesn’t make any sense. You can’t treat the players that way.”
The Aces began playing the foul game from that point, though they could have opted to try to get a stop and have a chance to tie or take the lead with a 3-pointer with about 12 seconds to play. Plum fouled Canada near halfcourt trailing by two with the game clock at 28 and the shot clock at 16.
The Storm made all six of their free throws the rest of the way. McBride cashed in a tough triple and Cambage added a quick two. After a take foul, the Aces had a chance to tie with 7.9 seconds remaining. Plum, guarded closely in the corner on the catch, missed a contested triple.
Laimbeer didn’t have a chance to stick with that big lineup and continue searching for ways to get Hamby those easy buckets in the second half because of Wilson’s injury.
Their lineup flexibility will erode if Wilson misses any time. If you insert Hamby into the starting lineup, who becomes the backup 4? The idea of the three-big lineup won’t be as potent, and they’ll likely need Hamby to produce playing upwards of 25 minutes.
Perhaps Tamera Young sliding up to the 4 for some stretches, something she did regularly as recently as the 2017 season with the Chicago Sky, would help the Aces get by in the interim and possibly get more shooting—mainly in the form of Sugar Rodgers—on the floor.
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