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Aces rally late against Sparks, clinch playoff berth

As expected, most of the Aces’ scoring this season has come from its starting lineup, with 87 percent of its points coming from their five starters.

But in a tight game in the fourth quarter Saturday night against the Los Angeles Sparks, two of the Aces’ biggest baskets came from reserve guard Riquna Williams.

She hauled in a long pass from Chelsea Gray for a wide open layup and knocked down a 3-pointer to help start a late Aces rally, as they prevailed 84-66 at Michelob Ultra Arena and clinched a spot in the WNBA playoffs.

“They were game changers,” Gray said of Williams’ baskets. “We were able to get stops and play in transition. It was a momentum thing, two key baskets that we needed.”

Kelsey Plum led the Aces with 29 points and A’ja Wilson added 24. Wilson’s seventh straight game of 20 or more points is a franchise record, breaking the previous mark held by coach Becky Hammon.

The Aces (20-8) will play in the WNBA Commissioner’s Cup Championship against the Chicago Sky (21-7) Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. in Chicago. That game is the culmination of an in-season competition that features 61 games throughout the regular season with players competing for a prize pool of $500,000 and an additional $165,000 for charitable and civic organizations.

Here are three takeaways from Saturday’s game:

1. Plum has bounceback performance

The first time WNBA all-star was coming offa quiet night in the Aces’ win over the Indiana Fever, only scoring nine points. But against the Sparks, Plum stepped up, surpassing her total from Thursday night in the first half with 12 points, which led the Aces at the break.

For the game, Plum hit 9-of-14 shots from the field and was 50 percent from 3-point range.

With the Aces trailing by as many as seven points in the third quarter, Plum attacked the rim to help pull the Aces back ahead. She hit a pair of free throws and got a tough layup to go down late in the third quarter to give the Aces a 57-53 lead entering the fourth quarter.

“She’s a key piece to our offense, so when she’s scoring on the offensive end it helps us,” Wilson said. “That’s what she does best.”

2. Aces clean up first quarter fouls

The Sparks rallied from an early 10-point deficit in the first quarter thanks to the Aces sending them to the free throw line.

Eight first-quarter fouls by the Aces sent the Sparks to the free throw line 13 times, and they made 12 of their shots. Seven of the eight Aces players who saw the floor in the first quarter committed a foul.

“We weren’t playing very smart. We were not playing as a unit, so I told them so,” Hammon said. “Then they started playing smart and executing the game plan, which was not foul them, especially their drivers.”

After a sloppy first quarter, the Sparks went to the line just nine more times and the Aces only committed seven more fouls the rest of the game.

3. Sparks fight despite thin bench

Prior to the game, it was announced that the Sparks (12-15) would be without two of their key contributors.

Their top 3-point shooter Lexie Brown (43.7 percent) and Chiney Ogwumike, who averages 7.5 points and 5.7 rebounds per game, did not play with an ankle injury and non-COVID related illness, respectively.

Despite only having seven players dressed, the Sparks received a boost from their bench, as they totaled 22 bench points compared to the Aces’ eight.

The Sparks needed that boost as their leading scorer, Nneka Ogwumike (19.7 points per game), only had had 10 points.

Contact Alex Wright at awright@reviewjournal.com. Follow @AlexWright1028 on Twitter.

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