Las Vegas coach Bill Laimbeer says the Aces should have lost to the Seattle Storm on Tuesday night.
Las Vegas standouts A’ja Wilson and Liz Cambage made sure they didn’t.
Wilson converted the go-ahead basket with 46.4 seconds left and Cambage followed with a block on the ensuing defensive possession to help the Aces overcome another lackadaisical performance — and escape Mandalay Bay Events Center with a 60-56 victory over the defending WNBA champion Storm before an announced crowd of 4,215.
Cambage finished with 14 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks for the Aces, who shot 31.4 percent from the field and committed 17 turnovers against a depleted Storm outfit.
Wilson scored 12 points — albeit on 4-of-15 shooting — and banked in a tie-breaking lefty jump hook after sealing Seattle foward Natasha Howard under the basket and receiving an entry pass from Dearica Hamby.
“All wins can’t be beautiful, I wish they could,” Wilson said. “For us to win this game against the defending champions is definitely something we should be proud of, but in situations and the way we played, we shouldn’t be proud of that at all.”
Laimbeer definitely wasn’t.
The Storm, already without reigning league MVP Breanna Stewart and perennial All-Star Sue Bird, lost fellow All-Star Jewell Loyd to an ankle injury in the first quarter. But the Aces — who hadn’t beaten a team with a winning record until Tuesday — slogged through their offense and never led by more than eight points.
Far too many possession ended in rushed, contested shots, or turnovers — 11 in the first half — but the Aces clung to a 36-32 halftime lead despite shooting 38.7 percent from the field.
“I was embarrassed for our franchise, for our team,” Laimbeer said. “In an important game like this, a home game that we needed to win, we laid an egg in the first half. … We won the game but I’m disturbed because any adversity that comes our way, we don’t respond to it.”
Las Vegas (6-4) slogged through the second half, too, while Seattle chipped away at the deficit on sheer heart, will and hustle. The Storm (7-5) seized multiple leads, but its offense foundered, too, and shot 30.1 percent from the field against the Aces’ top-ranked defense. Cambage and Hamby had crucial baskets in the final three minutes, and Wilson took advantage of a broken play to score the game-winning basket.
“I kind of went up with it,” she said. “It was an off-night for me, so I just had to focus and finish in that situation.”
Laimbeer lamented the victory, offering praise only for Cambage and the team’s defensive effort. The 6-foot-8-inch center played to a team-high plus-16 and was a factor on both ends of the floor while the rest of her teammates struggled.
She rejected Shavonte Zellous’s floater with 19 seconds left, all but sealing the victory.
An ugly, ugly victory.
“Defense should be key for everyone, all the time,” Cambage said. “I’m a strong believer in defense first. Your offense will come.”