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Graney: You can book it — Aces will pull off three-peat

Updated May 15, 2024 - 4:01 pm

The lights were dimmed and a banner was raised and shiny new rings were distributed. Just like last year. Just like it will be again next year.

It’s going out in a limb the size of your fingernail, but here we go: The Aces will win another WNBA championship. They will three-peat. They will continue to write their own memorable story.

Tom Brady will be making another appearance as part of the ownership group to celebrate yet another title.

Hey, it beats getting roasted.

Speaking of celebration. That’s what Tuesday evening was all about. That and beginning the journey toward another title. That and performing in front of 10,419 — the largest crowd to watch an Aces game in Michelob Ultra Arena.

The Aces were good enough to beat Phoenix 89-80 in front of the historic gathering, good enough to begin this specific quest on a positive note.

The little things

Intangibles will matter over the next several months. Talent isn’t the question. No team has more than the Aces. Coaching isn’t the question. The Aces have the league’s best in Becky Hammon. So it will come down to other factors.

“The ability to grow together,” Hammon said. “We don’t want to be satisfied. We don’t want to be content. We want to fight satisfaction. We have to stay hungry. That in itself is a skill — to have that mindset on a day-to-day basis.

“Focus on the moment. You never get to seize the moment if you’re not present in the moment. That’s my challenge to them — be present in every moment.”

Look. There are going to be road bumps. They are going to struggle at times. There are going to be injuries — star guard Chelsea Gray continues to be out with a gimpy leg.

There might even be a losing streak or two or three. Stages when they don’t play particularly well.

There was some of that Tuesday in the second quarter, when a 29-14 lead became 42-41 at halftime. Some of that down the stretch as well. The Aces didn’t handle Phoenix’s zone well at all. It looked like the first game of a season.

They’ve had such hurdles to clear in each of the last two seasons. It’s not easy winning championships, planning parades, no matter how easy the Aces might have made things look during points of this back-to-back run.

It was Golden Knights coach Bruce Cassidy who talked about pressure following his team’s first-round elimination from the Stanley Cup playoffs. That he didn’t believe it played a part in such an early exit. He didn’t think the P word of trying to repeat as champion weighed on the minds of those competing.

But there’s always some level of pressure for professional athletes. There should be.

All on Aces

“It’s to win or else,” Hammon said. “It’s always the elite goal. How do you respond in (down) moments? Do you fold or do you right the ship, dig a little deeper, trust a little more, be present a little more, give a little more. … Those are the habits we want to build. We want to be good in the valleys and not just on the mountaintop.”

It’s really all on them. They control the narrative. It might be true the Aces will get every team’s best effort on a nightly basis, but that can be countered with a laser focus. If you’re better, well, then you’re better.

“It’s not going to be easy,” Aces center Kiah Stokes said. “There are going to be tough games. A (three-peat) will be really hard. We know nothing is given to us. It’s going to be a battle. We thought winning it last year was hard — this is going to be 100 times harder to make it happen.”

It was at the end of his opening remarks during the banner/ring ceremony when Aces owner Mark Davis had this proclamation: “I’d like to say, let’s three-peat, baby!”

No worries. They will. A limb the size of your fingernail.

Just too good. Best team. Best coach. Best at most everything.

Ed Graney, a Sigma Delta Chi Award winner for sports column writing, can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on X.

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