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Bill Laimbeer builds Aces into title contender sans 3-point shot

When Bill Laimbeer played for the Detroit Pistons in the 1980s, the 3-point shot was considered a luxury, and attacking the basket and shooting midrange jump shots were the most common ways of scoring.

Basketball at all levels has changed dramatically since then and particularly in the past decade, as many teams have decided scoring three points at a time is better than two.

While that simple math might work out for some teams, Laimbeer has mostly built his WNBA teams, including this year’s Aces, more akin to when he played. It worked in three championship seasons with the Detroit Shock, and it’s working again for the Aces, who finished with an 18-4 record that made them the No. 1 seed in the WNBA playoffs.

The Aces are tied 1-1 with the seventh-seeded Connecticut Sun in the best-of-five semifinal series, and they won 83-75 Tuesday despite going 0-for-4 on 3-point attempts.

Game 3 is at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida.

A’ja Wilson is the foundational piece of the Aces’ puzzle, and she embodies Laimbeer’s preferred style. She is dangerous from about 18 feet in, either by shooting or driving. Although Wilson didn’t shoot a 3-pointer this season, she can score three points at a time.

“We’ll take three-point plays the old-fashioned way, a bucket and a foul,” Laimbeer said. “That puts their team in foul trouble, and that’s a big positive. We get teams in foul trouble because we attack so hard. Shooting 3-balls all day long doesn’t get anybody in foul trouble. We’re not going to have multiple games of zero 3-balls, but they are doing a good job of taking away our 3-ballers.”

Wilson scored 29 points in Game 2, including two consecutive and-one opportunities in crunch time that clinched the win.

She figures to have more room to roam in Game 3. Connecticut forward Alyssa Thomas, a Defensive Player of the Year candidate and the Sun’s best all-around player, will be out after suffering a shoulder injury five minutes into Game 2.

That should limit the Sun’s ability to play Wilson one-on-one, which should provide open opportunities for the Aces’ perimeter shooters.

The Aces shot by far the fewest 3-pointers in the league with 254 in the regular season. They made 93, the only team that hit fewer than 100.

Atlanta was next to last in 3-point attempts but shot 117 more than Las Vegas. Dallas shot 607 3s, the most in the league.

The Aces’ 38.5 3-point percentage was fourth-best in the league, and they made 10 in a 104-89 win over Minnesota on Sept. 10 that started their run of winning three games in four days to lock up the No. 1 seed.

They have struggled from 3-point range in their first two playoff games, going 1-for-18, but they have players who can make them.

Angel McCoughtry and Dearica Hamby made better than 47 percent of their 3s, and Kayla McBride is one of the WNBA’s purest shooters. Her shot was inconsistent all season, but she’s obviously capable of getting on a roll.

“It obviously helps the situation, but it’s not necessary,” McBride said of shooting 3s. “Ultimately when it comes to making 3-balls, I feel we have enough confidence in ourselves that we’ll do that. Whatever it takes is our mindset.”

Contact Jason Orts at jorts@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2936. Follow @SportsWithOrts on Twitter.

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