Sure, the Aces nearly beat a healthy playoff team. On the road. Sans two of their All-Stars in Liz Cambage and Dearica Hamby.
But reigning MVP A’ja Wilson didn’t see the silver lining after an 92-84 loss Sunday to the Chicago Sky at Wintrust Arena.
“We’ve got to get a better start. We’ve got to follow the game plan,” Wilson said after tallying 18 points and 12 rebounds. “I think we lost who we were and the things that got us the (win) in the first game (Thursday). We didn’t do that the second game.”
The Aces trailed by as many as 12 in the first half Sunday and tied the game twice in the second half before ultimately succumbing to the Sky, who clinched a playoff berth with the victory.
Las Vegas at 20-8 is still in control of the No. 2 seed and accompanying double-bye that would guarantee a berth in the WNBA semifinals.
But the lead is now a mere 1.5 games over the Seattle Storm and Minnesota Lynx, who come to Las Vegas on Wednesday for what Aces coach Bill Laimbeer deemed the “game of the year.”
“We just put ourselves in a position with no margin for error,” he said.
Las Vegas defeated Chicago without Cambage (health and safety protocols) and Hamby (sprained ankle) on Thursday at Michelob Ultra Arena by sharing the ball and limiting a backcourt comprised of All-Stars Courtney Vandersloot, Allie Quigley and Kahleah Copper.
But on Sunday Chicago limited the Aces’ touches in the lane in the first quarter and attacked the basket in the absence of the 6-foot-8-inch Cambage and her irreplaceable rim protection, resulting in an early 43-31 lead.
Kelsey Plum sparked a rally with her energy and pace, scoring a game-high 23 points to continue her Sixth Woman of the Year campaign. Vandersloot and Candace Parker controlled the pace of play, though, combining for 14 assists — and Quigley roamed free for open jumpers en route to a team-high 22 points.
Laimbeer said Las Vegas’ offense stagnated in the fourth quarter after watching the ball and player movement dwindle down the stretch. Plum didn’t disagree, saying the Aces need to sharpen their execution during the last four games of the regular season before they prepare for playoff competition.
Their first opportunity to do so comes against a Lynx squad whom they haven’t beaten this season.
“Getting the ball where we want it … everybody on the same page, being sharp in late moments — that’s the difference in this game between a win and a loss,” Plum said.
Diamond DeShields scored 17 for Chicago, which improved to 15-14. Parker finished with 12 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists.
Riquna Williams added 14 points for Las Vegas.