Takeaways: Dearica Hamby, Aces stun Sky

Aces advance behind Hamby’s heave

LAS VEGAS—Dearica Hamby‘s game-winner from just inside halfcourt was the icing on the cake.

Sunday’s second-round single-elimination playoff game between the Las Vegas Aces and Chicago Sky was filled with twists and turns. Look no further than the end of each quarter. Each had some eerie similarities to Hamby’s heave.

End of the fourth 

Sky point guard Courtney Vandersloot simply needed to wait to get fouled with Kelsey Plum and Sydney Colson closing in. (Chicago had three timeouts left at the time.) Hamby jumped the passing lane as Vandersloot hung in the air, looking to throw it up the sideline to Diamond DeShields.

A’ja Wilson had coughed it up about seven seconds earlier with the Aces trailing by two after Astou Ndour‘s clutch go-ahead 3-pointer from the right corner.

End of the third 

In a stretch fit for the very end of a game, the two teams combined to rattle off 15 points in the final minute of the period: a Wilson three-point play followed by back-to-back-to-back-to-back 3-pointers.

Kahleah Copper, Liz Cambage and DeShields each converted on catch-and-shoot looks. Had Hamby cruised in for a layup or a pull-up 3-pointer closer to the line, Kelsey Plum likely would have walked away with the shot of the night.

End of the second 

The tables turned; the Sky just missed their shot.

Coming out of a timeout, Wilson got stripped by Cheyenne Parker out near the wing. Allie Quigley, Chicago’s ace sharpshooter, missed a 3-pointer on the ensuing possession as the Sky took a six-point lead into the break.

End of the first

Hamby had two steal-scores in the final five seconds of a quarter!

Epiphanny Prince played just north of a minute on Sunday—one short burst in the first. With the clock winding down she turned the corner and finished a tough layup off glass over Dolson.

Parker rushed to fire an inbounds pass. Hamby was waiting right under the rim, lept up for the steal and laid the ball in just before the horn. Call this the diet version of the game-winner. Her body and the ball didn’t have to travel very far. But the old adage holds up. Four points are four points.

There’s more!

Sky head coach and general manager James Wade was frank when Hamby’s game-winner was brought up postgame.

“She stepped out of bounds,” he said. “She stepped out. The last possession, before she scored, she stepped out of bounds.”

Expect some detailed analysis in the coming days of Hamby’s feet during that sequence.

After all, how could one not look back on a moment of that magnitude with a critical eye after points came off the board earlier in the game?

To be clear, these are very different situations. The officials still had grounds to step in late in the second quarter as they stopped play near the 2:00 mark. Hamby found Cambage cutting to the rim for a layup, DeShields was incorrectly sent to the line to shoot two free throws when Ndour was in fact the one that got fouled.

DeShields went crashing to the floor on an attempted layup. Many may have expected the initial whistle would send her to the charity stripe. Ndour was fouled on an attempted putback.

Two very disorienting situations, two very different results.

The Aces took a 47-46 lead on the erased Cambage score. Ndour split the two free throws, and the Sky got a stop on the ensuing Aces possession. Chicago went on to close the half on a 6-0 run.

The final 6:24 of the fourth included two similar runs.

Chicago took an 85-84 lead then went scoreless across the next 3:06. Cambage and Hamby keyed a 6-0 Aces run with two buckets inside. The big lineup with Hamby at the 3 looked like it may have worn Chicago down.

Then came the response.

Las Vegas went scoreless from the 3:32 mark, when they took a 90-85 lead, until Hamby’s game-winner—3:28 of game time in total.

Those five possessions included a missed triple by Kayla McBride, a turnover by Plum that Vandersloot took the other way for a score, a missed layup by McBride and two missed jumpers by Cambage.

Ndour’s triple felt like a dagger.

After so many exciting back-and-forth stretches, were the Aces worn out?

It took an all-time playoff blunder by Vandersloot and an ill-advised shot by Hamby that happened to find the bottom of the net (and a possible missed call along the sideline) for the Aces to pull back ahead.

Finally, the actual nature of the final possession of the game can’t be overlooked.

Ndour got a look from the same spot!

The Sky zipped DeShields to the top of the key. With Wilson switched onto her, she drove right and was met by Hamby’s help in the lane. Ndour was open with time to rise and fire, but Hamby bolted out to the corner in time to contest the shot that missed wide left by a few feet.

These single-elimination playoff games aren’t for everyone. They do promise dramatic finishes and a March Madness feel.

Sunday’s game delivered.

The Aces advance.

Up next? A one-day turnaround leading into a best-of-five with the top-seeded Washington Mystics.

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