Aces forward Dearica Hamby prepped Saturday for her moment of glory by making a half-court shot at the Thomas & Mack Center during a shooting contest and won $100 from coach Bill Laimbeer.
“Practice,” she said with a grin, a crisp $100 bill in hand.
For the one she made Sunday afternoon.
The one that triggered a wild celebration from an announced crowd of 7,981 at the Thomas & Mack Center — and propelled the Aces into the semifinals of the WNBA playoffs.
Hamby intercepted an errant pass from Courtney Vandersloot and buried a 3-pointer from a step inside half court with five seconds remaining during a 93-92 victory over the Chicago Sky in their second-round matchup. Astou Ndour missed the potential game-winning 3-pointer on the ensuing possession, and the Aces stormed the court and rushed Hamby in jubilant celebration.
“I was obviously in shock,” said Hamby, who said she didn’t know how much time was left when she made her miraculous 3-pointer. “I almost fainted. I’m still in disbelief.”
But it happened, and the Aces will play the top-seeded Washington Mystics in a best-of-five series for a berth in the WNBA Finals.
Play begins Tuesday in Washington.
“(She) executed the play I drew up,” Las Vegas coach Bill Laimbeer joked. “The most important thing for me this year was to get to this round. We knew we were going to make the playoffs. I also knew when the playoffs begin that we could get beat by anybody.
”… This win is a great moment for the franchise. We’ve done everything right over the last two years. This kind of moment tops it off, but we’re not done.”
The Aces earned the franchise’s first playoff berth since 2014 by finishing the regular season with a 21-13 record, and played Sunday at the Thomas & Mack Center because of a scheduling conflict at their home arena, Mandalay Bay Events Center. Players were eager to play throughout the week, and Laimbeer penned a letter to the community, urging people to show up Sunday — and promising a fun atmosphere for those in attendance.
Las Vegas and Chicago made good on his promise, trading basket after basket for the better part of 40 minutes.
The Aces twice overcame double-figure deficits, thanks to steady performances from Liz Cambage, who had 23 points and 17 rebounds. And Kayla McBride, who scored 16. And Kelsey Plum, who had 15 points. And Hamby, who scored 17.
But the Sky boasted four double-figure scorers, too, and played with pace and poise to hold a 92-90 advantage — and the ball — with 14.6 seconds remaining in regulation. All they had to do was take care of the ball, maybe make a couple of free throws and secure one final stop.
Plum pressured Vandersloot after a timeout in an effort to foul. And Vandersloot, perhaps the league’s most cerebral point guard, evaded Plum — dribbling away the final seconds of the Aces’ season before delivering an errant pass.
A laser down the sideline. Just off target enough for Hamby to intercept.
“It gave me March Madness vibes. It gave me those college vibes, where anything can happen and you can’t let up,” Aces forward A’ja Wilson said. “We fed off the crowd. We fed off one another. That’s the beauty of it all.”
Best-of-five, All PDT
No. 1 Washington vs. No. 4 Aces
Tuesday: at Washington, 5:30 p.m.
Thursday: at Washington, 5:30 p.m.
Sunday: at Aces, 2 p.m.
x-Sept. 24: at Las Vegas, 5:30 or 6 p.m.
x-Sept. 26: at Washington, 5 or 5:30 p.m.
Connecticut vs. Los Angeles
Tuesday: at Connecticut, 3:30 p.m.
Thursday: at Connecticut, 3:30 p.m.
Sunday: at Los Angeles, 4 p.m.
x-Sept. 24: at Los Angeles, 6 or 7:30 p.m.
x-Sept. 26: at Connecticut, 3:30 or 5 p.m.