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Guard’s triple-double powers Aces’ bounce-back win against Liberty

Updated August 17, 2023 - 11:35 pm

The game ended more than half an hour ago. The Aces had watched the New York Liberty celebrate winning the Commissioner’s Cup final 82-63 on Tuesday at Michelob Ultra Arena.

Workers had already started to clean up the court.

But Chelsea Gray was still getting up shots.

“You always want to come back better after a loss,” she said.

The extra work paid off. Gray registered a triple-double Thursday to lead the Aces to an 88-75 bounce-back win against the Liberty in front of 9,230 fans at Michelob Ultra Arena. The All-Star scored 22 points with 11 rebounds and 11 assists to keep the Aces undefeated on their home court during the regular season.

The Aces (28-3) lost at home to the Liberty (24-7) in the Commissioner’s Cup championship game, but that did not count in the regular-season standings.

“She’s one of the most competitive people I know,” Aces coach Becky Hammon said. “You feel really good when Chelsea Gray is on your team.”

It was the second triple-double of Gray’s career. Her first one came while she was playing for the Los Angeles Sparks against the Washington Mystics on July 7, 2019, when Gray had 13 points, 10 rebounds and 13 assists.

Gray’s triple-double is also the first since the Aces relocated to Las Vegas ahead of the 2018 season, and the second in the franchise’s history. Center Margo Dydek had 12 points, 11 rebounds and 10 blocks for the Utah Starzz on June 7, 2001.

“This is what Chelsea does,” reigning MVP A’ja Wilson said. “She can do this in her sleep. It’s slight work.”

Alongside Gray, Wilson had 21 points and eight rebounds, All-Star guard Kelsey Plum added 18 points and four 3-pointers, and All-Star guard Jackie Young had 16 points. The Aces also won the rebounding battle 35-28.

Sabrina Ionescu led the Liberty with 22 points, including six 3s, but the Liberty also committed 15 turnovers, including eight in the fourth quarter.

The Aces finish their homestand at noon Saturday against the Sparks.

Here are three takeaways from the game:

1. Early foul trouble

Jonquel Jones was a major problem for the Aces just 48 hours earlier. The former MVP had 16 points and 15 rebounds on her way to Commissioner’s Cup MVP honors. Her size was also a massive deterrent for the Aces’ drives into the paint, stifling Wilson in particular.

But the Aces kept her off the floor for the majority of the first half because of foul trouble. Jones picked up her third foul with 6:37 remaining in the second quarter. Without her, the Liberty struggled, and the Aces attacked the rim, scoring 10 points in the paint.

Jones finished the first half plus-two. No other Liberty starter had a plus-minus higher than minus-seven.

2. Bell, Clark bounce back

The Aces’ bench struggled in thes Cup final as forward Alysha Clark went 0 of 5 from 3, and guard Kierstan Bell was held scoreless in 10 minutes.

Two days later, Clark and Bell were at the heart of the team’s 53-40 first-half lead. Bell, in particular, played one of her most complete quarters in an Aces uniform.

She had four points and made a series of nice plays on defense, containing her assignments and helping when necessary.

“She’s going to be in the mix,” Hammon said. “She’s just earning her trust minute by minute.”

Clark had five points, four rebounds, two steals and was a game-best plus-16 in just under 23 minutes. Bell was plus-11 in 16 minutes.

3. Containing Stewart

The Aces held Breanna Stewart — New York’s other former MVP — to just 13 points on 3-of-15 shooting. She was 1 of 7 from 3 in more than 37 minutes to finish minus-11.

Stewart became the first player in WNBA history to score at least 40 points three times in the same season when she scored 42 against the Indiana Fever on Aug. 13.

Against the Aces, she only had one more made field goal than turnover.

“We just tried to be active,” Hammon said, “make her touches and her looks as difficult as possible.”

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

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