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Aces settle down late to beat Atlanta Dream

Updated August 13, 2019 - 11:16 pm

They aren’t all going to be pretty. Or dominant.

But hey, a win is a win — and the Aces need as many as possible as the franchise broaches its first playoff berth since 2014.

Las Vegas trailed the lowly Atlanta Dream for much of the second and third quarters Tuesday night at Mandalay Bay Events Center, but rallied in the fourth quarter to secure a critical 94-90 victory before an announced crowd of 3,532 that included retired boxer Floyd Mayweather.

The Aces improved to 17-9 and moved into third place in the WNBA’s overall standings behind the Washington Mystics (17-7) and Connecticut Sun (16-8). They will clinch a playoff berth with one more victory, and the top two seeds get double-byes into the semifinals of the playoffs.

“Our toughness and our effort was just a little bit better in the fourth,” Aces guard Kayla McBride said. “It’s really hard playing three games in six days, and doing it repeatedly. It really takes a lot of mental toughness and effort and togetherness. I thought we showed that tonight.”

The Aces raced to a 25-12 lead early in the first quarter by featuring Liz Cambage in the low post, and cutting and screening away from the ball. Then, they spent the remainder of the first half squandering the lead by abandoning everything they did to attain it.

Open catch-and-shoot 3-pointers turned into long, contested 2-pointers. Passing and cutting turned into isolation drives into the teeth of the defense. The Aces stopped hustling. They stopped defending.

A 13-point lead became a 49-43 halftime deficit — against the worst team in the WNBA.

“All the things we talked about before the game, we didn’t do,” Aces coach Bill Laimbeer said. “And that’s what gave them the chance.”

But that chance dissipated later and later into the second half against the Aces, who are considerably more talented than this year’s iteration of Atlanta (5-20), loser of 10 straight games.

Las Vegas forward Dearica Hamby battled in the third quarter for 13 of her game-high 23 points, and Cambage reasserted herself on the block in the fourth quarter. The Aces’ top-ranked team defense resurfaced, too — holding Atlanta to 5-of-19 shooting in the final period — and Kelsey Plum buried a crucial pull-up jumper with 16.2 seconds to play.

Hamby added 16 rebounds to cap another stellar performance in relief of injured star A’ja Wilson. Cambage finished with 18 points, 10 rebounds, six assists and two blocks, and McBride scored 21.

Rookie guard Jackie Young continued her improved play, finishing with 17 points, five assists and four rebounds — and impressing her coach in the process.

“As the game has been going on, I’m just getting a lot more comfortable,” Young said. “Whenever the games come, I’m able to play my game, be comfortable and just relax out there.”

More Aces: Follow at reviewjournal.com/aces and @RJ_Sports on Twitter.

Contact reporter Sam Gordon at sgordon@reviewjournal.com. Follow @BySamGordon on Twitter.

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