There’s losing. There’s learning.
In the WNBA semifinals against the Washington Mystics, the Aces experienced both.
They lost the best-of-five series 3-1 to a better, more cohesive team returning to the WNBA Finals for the second consecutive season. They learned that they’re, oh, so close to their championship aspirations.
But those will have to wait. At least one more year.
The Aces concluded their second season in Las Vegas on Tuesday night with a 94-90 loss to the Mystics in Game 4 of the semifinals at Mandalay Bay Events Center. An ebullient announced crowd of 5,645 included Los Angeles Lakers standouts LeBron James and Anthony Davis, and Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green.
Las Vegas led most of the first half and had plenty of opportunities to take control in the secondf. But Washington executed with more precision during a chaotic fourth quarter in which Emma Meesseman scored 13 of her 22 points.
She also converted a crucial baseline jumper with 29.5 seconds to play, and Las Vegas forward Dearica Hamby missed a potential game-tying 3-pointer in the final seconds, thereby ending the hopes of a series comeback after losing the first two games in Washington.
“A lot of our players on our team, this is their first playoff experience,” veteran Aces wing Tamera Young said. “These are the times you learn from your mistakes, you get better and you prepare for the next season.”
The Aces certainly learned from the mistakes of their inaugural season in 2018.
They finished 14-20 and fell shy of a playoff berth, but established a youthful core of A’ja Wilson, Kayla McBride and Kelsey Plum while building an enthusiastic fan base. They added All-Star center Liz Cambage to that core in May and finished the regular season 21-13 after opening as the betting favorites to capture the championship.
Wilson, Cambage and McBride were All-Stars for the second straight season, and Plum flashed brilliance at point guard in the playoffs. Hamby captured the Sixth Woman of the Year award and electrified Las Vegas with her improbable game-winning 3-pointer against the Chicago Sky in the second round of the postseason, a shot that earned the Aces their matchup with the Mystics.
But talent doesn’t immediately translate to titles, and the Mystics were steeled by years of postseason experience — including a 3-0 series loss last year to the Seattle Storm in the WNBA Finals. They thrived in the most critical moments of Games 1 and 2 while the Aces faltered en route to a 2-0 deficit. They were unfazed by a blowout loss in Game 3 and the Aces’ frenetic start to Game 4.
WNBA MVP Elena Delle Donne scored 25 points to lead the Mystics. Teammate Kristi Toliver added 20 points. Cambage scored 25, Hamby 18 and Plum 17 for the Aces.
The Aces played well. The Mystics played better.
“They beat us. We also beat ourselves,” Aces coach Bill Laimbeer said.
A palpable sense of optimism is prevalent, though, amid the disappointment. Losing, Laimbeer knows, is part of the process. So, too, is learning. And they go hand and hand for the Aces right now.
Onward and upward.
“That’s why we can’t hang our heads, because we know that it’s a learning experience,” Laimbeer added. “I think we’re all excited about this situation.”