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Aces ride stingy defense to 3rd straight victory

Updated July 17, 2022 - 7:33 pm

Aces guard Chelsea Gray didn’t need to say anything to get Dearica Hamby to cut.

Coming off a screen from forward A’ja Wilson at the top of the key in the second quarter of Sunday’s game against the Connecticut Sun, Gray locked eyes with Hamby, who was waiting for a pass on the right wing. The forward darted down the lane, and Gray delivered the perfect bounce pass, splitting two defenders for a wide-open layup.

“We’ve been playing together so long that we already know the actions and where they’re going to be,” Gray said. “I know which way they like coming off the pick-n-roll, or which way they want a shot.”

Gray’s pass to Hamby was one of her nine assists as she propelled the Aces to a 91-83 win over the Sun at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut, the team’s first victory at the arena since 2014.

Team defense and 63 combined points from Gray, Wilson and Kelsey Plum helped the Aces secure the season series against the Sun, which could come into play as the teams jockey for postseason seeding.

The Aces have won three consecutive games for the first time since June 19 and are 3-0 since the All-Star break, with all three victories on the road. They will return to Michelob Ultra Arena to play the Atlanta Dream at 7 p.m. Tuesday.

“They really just kept playing the right way,” coach Becky Hammon said.

Here are three takeaways from the game:

1. Defense saves the day

The Aces (18-7) struggled on 3-pointers in the first half, going 2 of 15. But their defense kept them in the game by forcing 22 turnovers for the game.

Sun All-Star Alyssa Thomas had a career-high nine turnovers, and fellow All-Star Brionna Jones committed five. Wilson credited the team’s scouting report and the Aces’ activity on defense for their success.

“We were moving, and we were grooving,” she said.

Those giveaways turned into opportunities. The Aces scored 33 points off turnovers and took nine more shots than the Sun, which was needed because they hit only 9 of 36 3-pointers.

“Obviously, the defense won the game for us,” Hammon said.

2. Gray continues revival

Plum (22 points) and Wilson (20) were their usual standouts, but Gray was the focal point of the offense.

“It was like she had the basketball on a string,” Wilson said.

Gray has been on a tear since getting snubbed for the All-Star Game. She scored 21 points, tying her season high, had a 9-to-2 assist-to-turnover ratio, three steals and finished a game-best plus-19.

Gray’s passing was the most valuable tool for the Aces against the Sun (16-9), who packed the paint and trapped Plum early to get the ball out of her hands. Gray also kept the ball moving when the offense became stagnant near the end of the third quarter.

“When we’re intentional with the action that we want, we can get whatever we want,” Gray said. “We were getting rolls, we were getting shots and knocking them down. It’s easier to pick apart when we’re in our spots.”

3. Sun miss All-Star

The Sun were missing All-Star center Jonquel Jones, the reigning league MVP who was put in health and safety protocols before the game.

Jones had 20 points on 7-of-9 shooting and seven rebounds when the Sun defeated the Aces on June 2 in Las Vegas.

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

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