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Kelsey Plum’s career night powers Aces past Liberty

A ruptured Achilles wasn’t going to deter Aces guard Kelsey Plum. Neither was a new role as the first guard off the bench. Her faith in her talents never wavered.

And on Tuesday night, she was rewarded with the best performance of her WNBA career.

Plum scored a career-high 32 points on 11-of-16 shooting and helped turn an 11-point deficit into a 100-78 victory over the New York Liberty at Michelob Ultra Arena.

The 26-year-old combo guard played with pace, attacked the basket and buried jumper after jumper, invigorating an announced crowd of 2,115.

She also signed a couple of autographs after the game. A couple of signatures after a signature performance.

“This isn’t new for me. It wasn’t unexpected,” Plum said. “This won’t be the last time something like this happens.”

Plum tore her left Achilles last June while playing three-on-three basketball and missed the 2020 WNBA season. She was diligent in her rehabilitation, returning to the court in February to participate in USA Basketball’s three-on-three minicamp and ultimately helping the Americans qualify for the Olympics last month in Austria.

She missed six Aces games as a result before returning June 3 and continued adapting to her reserve role after starting 80 of her first 96 games.

“She fully understands what I’m looking for, and she’s ready to go,” Aces coach Bill Laimbeer said. “Right now, bringing that energy off the bench like that is phenomenal for us, and when she gets rolling like this, I just keep going.”

Las Vegas (9-3) lacked energy in the first quarter and trailed 37-26, but Plum helped trigger the turnaround by pushing the tempo in transition. Her intensity helped the Aces score easy baskets, set their defense and slow New York’s perimeter-oriented offense. An 11-point deficit became a three-point halftime lead.

Plum continued to sizzle in the second half by beating defenders off the dribble, finishing at the basket and stepping into open perimeter shots. She buried a step-back 17-footer and beat the third-quarter buzzer by banking in a contested floater, earning a standing ovation from the crowd.

And praise from her teammates.

“I don’t know a harder worker than Kelsey Plum,” said Aces center Liz Cambage, who had 14 points and 11 rebounds. “She loves this game more than anybody I know.”

Cambage has repeatedly called the Aces a “team full of superstars,” noting that anybody can score 20 or 30 points on any given night. That team full of superstars gladly deferred to Plum and celebrated her success against the Liberty (6-5).

“At the end of the day, we’re all here to win. It’s a sacrifice,” Plum said. “Tonight, it happened to be the ball came to me.”

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

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