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Aces advance to WNBA Finals with win in Seattle

Updated September 6, 2022 - 11:44 pm

The Aces are going to the WNBA Finals.

For the second time in three seasons, the Aces will have a chance to bring the first championship banner in franchise history back to Las Vegas.

“Definitely thrilled to be moving on,” Aces coach Becky Hammon said.

The top-seeded Aces defeated the No. 4 Storm 97-92 in Game 4 on Tuesday night at Climate Pledge Arena in Seattle, clinching the five-game semifinal series with their third straight win over Seattle.

“Tough, gritty win on our part,” Hammon said. “Pretty gutsy efforts by a couple amazing basketball players.”

Guard Chelsea Gray led the way with 31 points and 10 assists. But a team performance propelled the Aces to a win against the Storm and All-Star Breanna Stewart, whose 42 points tied the WNBA playoff record for points in a game.

It was also the final game for Storm legend Sue Bird, who had announced she will retire after the season.

“She has a fairy-tale career, one that kids dream of,” Hammon said.

The finals will begin at noon Sunday at Michelob Ultra Arena. The Aces will play the Chicago Sky or Connecticut Sun, who will meet in Game 5 of their semifinal series Thursday.

Here are three takeaways from the game:

1. Stewart and Loyd vs. Aces

For the first 20 minutes of Game 4, Stewart was unstoppable. She scored a playoff record 26 points in the first half on 9-for-12 shooting and was 5 of 5 on 3-pointers.

“We were scratching our head about Stewie,” Hammon said.

Stewart wasn’t alone. Jewell Loyd scored 12 first-half points. They combined for 38 of Seattle’s 47 points, but the rest of the Storm shot 3 of 15.

The Aces had more balanced scoring. Guard Kelsey Plum led them with 14 points, and A’ja Wilson scored 10. They also got solid contributions from Jackie Young and Gray.

2. Third-quarter run

Trailing by three points entering the second half, the Aces came out engaged on both sides of the ball.

They started the quarter on a 10-2 run, fueled by Wilson and Gray, and outscored the Storm 22-12 in the quarter to take a 66-59 lead. Gray hit two late jumpers to halt a Seattle run with 45 seconds left in the quarter.

“We were able to come out and get some separation, which you’re going to have to have against this team because they’re not going anywhere,” Hammon said.

3. Nervy ending

Despite the third-quarter run, Stewart and the Storm never let the Aces pull away. Even after Gray hit a step-back jumper to put the Aces ahead by five points with 30 seconds remaining, Seattle wasn’t done, just like in Game 3.

A Bird turnover with 13 seconds left then led to a jump ball after the Aces failed to inbound the ball. Seattle took possession off the tipoff, and while Loyd missed a 3, Stewart crashed the offensive glass for a put-back layup to pull the Storm within three points.

“It was just two titans going at it,” Hammon said. “It was like, who’s going to be the last woman standing?”

After Young hit her free throws to extend the lead back to five points, Stewart slipped on the ensuing Storm possession and turned the ball over, securing the Aces’ win and their spot in the finals.

Contact reporter Andy Yamashita at ayamashita@reviewjournal.com. Follow @ANYamashita on Twitter.

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