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3 takeaways: Aces lose 1st game of season in tense rematch — PHOTOS

Updated May 22, 2024 - 7:22 am

Even without the pomp and circumstance of ring night, the stakes of the Aces’ rematch with the Mercury felt higher than ever Tuesday.

Once the final buzzer sounded at Michelob Ultra Arena, the Aces had fallen 98-88 for their first loss of the season. This comes after the two-time defending champions beat the Mercury 89-80 on opening night when they raised their second WNBA title banner.

Guard Kelsey Plum led the Aces (2-1) with 27 points. Shooting guard Jackie Young contributed 23 points, while forward A’ja Wilson added 21.

Aces coach Becky Hammon said pregame that Mercury guard Kahleah Copper would be “a problem.” She was right, as Copper went off for 37 points to lead the Mercury (2-1) to the win.

While it’s not reflected in the final score, Tuesday’s game came down to the wire. The Aces cut the Mercury’s lead to two in the final minute after trailing by as many as 15 in the fourth quarter.

Here are three takeaways from the loss:

1. Duo’s heroics not enough

In addition to leading the Aces in the box score, Plum and Young also maintained the team’s energy throughout the game.

“The Plum Dawg” was all hustle. She went flying over the Mercury’s bench when she dove for a loose ball late in the second half. The Aces only made 11 3-pointers as a team, and Plum made seven of them — the most in a game by an Aces player since the franchise relocated to Las Vegas.

One of those shots beyond the arc came with four minutes to cut the deficit to 88-81. After Copper answered with a layup, Mercury guard Rebecca Allen fouled Plum, who made both of her free throws.

Young was next to score with a quick layup to bring the score to 90-85. The Aces’ run continued when Plum hit another 3-pointer, assisted by Kiah Stokes, to make the score 90-88. But Copper answered with another driving layup.

There was a window of opportunity when Mercury guard Diana Taurasi missed both of her free throws after being fouled by Plum. But it didn’t matter, as Young and Plum missed subsequent 3-point attempts.

The Mercury closed the game with guards Natasha Cloud and Sophie Cunningham making all four of their combined attempts from the free-throw line.

Young is nicknamed the “Silent Assassin,” which made it even more shocking when she was seen exchanging heated words with Cunningham with a minute remaining in the second quarter. Young was called for a foul as she pressured Cunningham when she came down with a defensive rebound.

The two jawed at each other as they walked down the court, and Young had to be held back during the heated interaction.

Young is starting her sixth professional campaign on a tear. After matching Wilson’s 22 points and adding a career-high 11 assists in the Aces’ win over the Sparks on Saturday, Young became the first player in WNBA history to record more than 45 points, 15 assists, 10 rebounds and five steals across the first two games of a season.

From the opening tip Tuesday, the former No. 1 overall pick continued to illustrate just how complete and effective her game is. She had 19 points, four rebounds, three assists and a steal on 8-for-12 shooting in the 20 minutes she played in the first half.

2. Mercury adjust

Phoenix had a 25-20 lead to start Tuesday’s game, a turn from the season opener when Wilson got off to a blistering 17-point start to give the Aces an early lead.

On Tuesday, the Aces didn’t have their first lead of the game until Sydney Colson assisted Stokes with 6:50 remaining in the half. She went on to hit another 3 on the following possession, and a layup on the next one. Her three straight field goals forced the Mercury to call a timeout as the Aces took the 39-35 advantage.

If you ask Hammon and Wilson, the problem is the Aces’ defense. Former Ace Dearica Hamby scored a career-high 29 points during the team’s last game against the Sparks, and the Aces couldn’t stop Copper on Tuesday.

“We’re just not good defensively,” Wilson said. “Wholeheartedly, we’ve got to be better”

Hammon said: “That’s not what I want to see. I don’t see 98 points run up on our home court. At a certain point you have to say, ‘I’m gonna stop my man.’ And we have two of the best defensive players in the league.”

3. Spirits still high

Despite the Aces being down 86-83, the crowd erupted when injured point guard Chelsea Gray was seen dancing on the jumbotron during a timeout midway through the fourth quarter.

Wilson came into the postgame news conference smiling and laughing with her parents, and Hammon made it clear that she isn’t worried about the defeat.

“My players are probably completely confused because I was pissed after the win and I’m not that pissed right now,” Hammon said. “We haven’t been playing well. So it’s this false sense of being good. So hopefully it gets our attention on where it needs to be.”

Wilson offered the same sentiment, adding that the WNBA’s recent investigation of the team’s sponsorship deal with the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, and loaded expectations surrounding the team, aren’t to blame.

“I’m really glad we had a game like this,” Wilson said. “When it comes to the off-court stuff, we’re professional athletes, we’re going to get the job done no matter what.”

Contact Callie Lawson-Freeman at clawsonfreeman@reviewjournal.com. Follow @CallieJLaw on X.

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