Updated September 10, 2023 - 6:03 pm
Coach Becky Hammon’s halftime message during the Aces’ 100-85 win against the Phoenix Mercury on Sunday contained just four simple words: Run through the line.
The Aces didn’t need to win. Minutes after they tipped off against the Mercury, a buzzer-beating floater by Washington Mystics wing Brittney Sykes off a baseline out-of-bounds play condemned the New York Liberty to a 90-88 defeat — and clinched the No. 1 seed for the Aces.
With their playoff position confirmed, the Aces might’ve taken their foot off the gas. Instead, Hammon told them to dig deep and finish the regular season on the right note.
“When you talk about sprinters — track runners — they run through that finish line because those seconds matter,” reigning WNBA MVP A’ja Wilson said. “I think that’s just us. Why are we going to slack around?”
The Aces (34-6) cruised past the Mercury (9-31) in front of 17,406 fans at T-Mobile Arena — a record for the franchise in Las Vegas. The Aces will face the No. 8 Chicago Sky (18-22) in a best-of-three first-round series starting with Game 1 at 7 p.m. Wednesday at T-Mobile Arena.
Wilson led all scorers with 36 points. She also contributed eight rebounds, five steals and three blocks in just under 29 minutes. All-Star guard Kelsey Plum added 30 points and made six 3s, and All-Star guard Chelsea Gray had 21 points and eight assists for the Aces.
Sunday was the 11th time the Aces have scored 100 points or more in a game this season, setting a WNBA record. The 2010 Mercury previously held the record with 10 100-point games, but in a 34-game season.
The Aces also became the first team in league history to have four players — Wilson (22.8), Plum (18.7), All-Star Jackie Young (17.6) and Gray (15.3) — average at least 15 points per game.
“They were so good,” Hammon said. “We won more games and lost less games in 40 games than we did last year, under more difficult circumstances.”
Moriah Jefferson scored 22 to lead the Mercury. All-Star center Brittney Griner added 21 points on 10-of-12 shooting.
Here are three takeaways from the game:
1. T-Mobile takeover
Due to a scheduling conflict, the Aces played their regular-season finale at T-Mobile Arena. The fans who arrived, including NBA guards Stephen Curry and Kyle Lowry, shattered the Aces’ single-game franchise record since the organization relocated to Las Vegas before the 2018 season. (The previous record was 10,348 at Michelob Ultra Arena on Aug. 19.)
The crowd also ensures the Aces will lead the league in attendance this season for the first time in franchise history.
Wilson and Plum were part of the Aces’ first season in Las Vegas, and they said it’s been a joy to watch the fan base grow. Plum joked she remembers being able to find her family in the stands early in her Las Vegas tenure because there were so few people in attendance.
“This was a big deal,” Wilson said.
2. Backcourt barrage
While Wilson led the team in scoring, Gray and Plum were close to their best with the playoffs right around the corner. Plum was 12 of 19 from the floor and also had three rebounds, three assists and two steals.
Gray was similarly efficient, going 5 of 7 from 3. After going through a rough shooting stretch at the end of the Aces’ difficult August schedule, the Bay Area native has shot 45 percent or better in her past four games.
3. Preparing for Chicago
Hammon dismissed herself from the postgame news conference with the exclamation that she needed to go watch film.
However, she did give a quick analysis on the Aces’ first-round opponent, identifying Chicago’s trio of guards — Kahleah Copper, Marina Mabrey and Courtney Williams — as the catalyst of the Sky’s offense. Plum agreed, and added that Chicago reserve guard Dana Evans may be the fastest player in the league.
“Forget everything that happened in the regular season,” Plum said. “This is a different season.”
Aces vs. Chicago Sky
— Game 1: 7 p.m. Wednesday at T-Mobile Arena
— Game 2: Noon Sunday at Michelob Ultra Arena
— Game 3*: TBD Sept. 20 at Chicago
* If necessary