Aces guard Kayla McBride unproductively slogged through the first three quarters against the New York Liberty on Wednesday night, prompting a personal challenge from coach Bill Laimbeer before the start of the fourth.
“Are you ready to play?” McBride recalled Laimbeer asking. “Are you ready to go back in the game and actually do something?”
She certainly was.
McBride scored all 15 of her points in the final quarter to help the Aces seal an 85-72 home victory over the pesky Liberty, and tie the Dallas Wings for the WNBA’s eighth and final playoff spot with two games remaining.
Both teams are 14-18, and Las Vegas plays at Dallas on Friday.
The Wings won the first two meetings and hold the tiebreaker, but the Aces control their destiny and will make the playoffs if they win out — regardless of how Dallas concludes its season.
“I told (the players) at the start of the season, that at the end of the season, we wanted to be the team that no one wanted to play,” Laimbeer said. “I think we’ve accomplished that goal, and I think that teams don’t want to play us. … We’re at the point now where we have a chance.”
The same Aces that lost seven of their first eight games this season still have a chance to qualify for the playoffs.
The same Aces that lost their first five games in August still have a chance to qualify for the playoffs.
“We’re trying to prove something,” McBride said. “We’re not San Antonio. We’re not the losing team we’ve been the last couple years. We’re trying to prove that to the whole league.”
The Aces opened the game with a 22-3 run behind flurries of baskets from A’ja Wilson and Kelsey Plum. Naturally, they relaxed in the second and third quarters, allowing the Liberty (7-25) to pull within nine points despite the absence of star center Tina Charles, who sat out with back spasms.
McBride, admittedly tired and sluggish early, ignited the Aces in the fourth with a trio of early baskets, and all but clinched the win with a 3-pointer and layup in the final 100 seconds.
New York called timeout, McBride screamed in triumph and the season-high 7,159 in attendance roared in support of their potential playoff team.
“We just don’t give up,” McBride said. “We have this chip on our shoulder and we feed off of it, and that’s what’s continued our success. Obviously, we have a long way to go. There are a lot more experienced teams in the league. But that’s what we’re feeding off of right now.”
The Aces depart for Dallas on Thursday and will have a day to prepare for the Wings, who have lost nine consecutive games and fired coach Fred Williams on Sunday. They’re just as desperate as Las Vegas. Survive and advance.
“Starting off at 1-7, I don’t think people even thought of us even having a chance at the playoffs,” Wilson said after scoring a game-high 19 points. “Now look at us. We’re right there.”
Contact reporter Sam Gordon at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @BySamGordon on Twitter.