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3 takeaways: Aces lose 3rd straight for 1st time since 2019 — PHOTOS

Updated June 11, 2024 - 11:37 pm

In pursuit of a three-peat, the Aces have diverted down a path that’s taking them back to the past.

The two-time defending WNBA champions took a 100-86 loss to the Minnesota Lynx on Tuesday night at Michelob Ultra Arena. A’ja Wilson had 28 points and eight rebounds for the Aces (5-5), stretching her historic streak of games with at least 20 points to 15.

Alanna Smith led the Lynx (9-3) with 18 points, while four of her teammates contributed 14 or more.

The Aces couldn’t replicate that level of widespread productivity. Kelsey Plum was the Aces’ next-highest scorer with 13 points.

It was their third straight regular-season defeat — a first for the franchise since August 2019.

The Aces came out strong, securing a 31-29 lead on 70 percent shooting from the 3-point line in the first quarter. The period saw Megan Gustafson (eight) and Kate Martin (three) combine for 11 points from the bench, while the Lynx’s reserves only had two points in the first.

But the Aces were down 59-48 by halftime, the most points allowed by the team in the first half since 2020. Also, the Lynx notched a 62.9 percent shooting percentage, the highest for an opponent against the Aces in the first half since 2018.

The result drops the Aces to 1-3 in Commissioner’s Cup play. The team will play its final game of the in-season tournament on Thursday at the Phoenix Mercury.

Here are three takeaways from the Aces’ fourth loss in their last five games:

1. ‘Fighting for joy’

The Aces lost three straight games in the 2020 WNBA Finals, and coach Becky Hammon was hired the next year.

Following Tuesday’s loss, seven-year Aces veteran A’ja Wilson said she wasn’t ready to press the panic button and still holds full faith in her team. But Hammon and Plum were candid about the energy in the locker room.

“We are fighting for joy right now,” Plum said. “Losing sucks.”

Tensions became evident on the court late in the third quarter when Plum had to be pulled away from Lynx guard Natasha Hiedeman, who had just blocked her attempted layup. A heated verbal exchange ensued, and both players were assessed techincal fouls.

Hammon and Plum agreed that offense wasn’t the team’s largest issue.

“Frankly, I have not felt good about the vibes since Day 1,” Hammon said. “I think our defense sucked from Day 1.”

Hammon added that while Wilson wouldn’t say it, she knows the 2023 WNBA Finals MVP and reigning Defensive Player of the Year is frustrated with the team’s recent performances.

2. Problems on perimeter

Hammon said pregame that the team would need to focus on protecting the perimeter, as the Lynx entered the game making 40.5 percent of their 3-pointers in 2024 compared to 32.5 percent last year.

It was clear by the third quarter that things weren’t going according to plan. The Lynx reached a 15-point lead with a little less than eight minutes to play in the third after making three consecutive 3-pointers, pushing them to 11-for-18 (61.1 percent) from beyond the arc at that point.

Minnesota, which leads the league in 3-pointers and points per game, finished the matchup 15-for-27 (55.6 percent) from deep. The Aces were 10-for-31 (32.3 percent).

3. Olympic pedigree

On Tuesday morning, USA Basketball officially announced that Wilson, Plum, Jackie Young and Chelsea Gray were among 12 players named to the 2024 U.S. Olympic women’s team.

The last time four players from the same team were named to an Olympic squad was in 2016, when Lynx players Seimone Augustus, Sylvia Fowles, Maya Moore and Lindsay Whalen made the cut.

Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve, who will also coach the Olympic team, spoke about the difficulties of having so many Olympians on one squad.

“The pressure of winning (is high),” Reeve said. “But Becky will be terrific at managing that. Those are first-world problems.”

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

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