LAS VEGAS — A’ja Wilson remembers what it was like being swept in the WNBA Finals two years ago, and didn’t like it.
Sunday, she made sure neither she nor her teammates would feel like that this season.
Wilson had 24 points and 11 rebounds and the Las Vegas Aces beat the Connecticut Sun 67-64 on Sunday in Game 1 of the WNBA Finals.
The M’VP showed up and showed out in Game 1 of the #WNBAFinals
24 PTS // 11 REB // 4 BLK // 2 STL // 54.5% FG@_ajawilson22 // #RaiseTheStakes pic.twitter.com/F7ewUFNCTe
— Las Vegas Aces (@LVAces) September 11, 2022
“You wanna go out there and play for your teammates because you felt the way that you felt in 2020 – and you hate it.”
South Carolina’s FINEST hittin’ the griddy after the dub… mando 🤝 @_ajawilson22 x @jamorant | #phantomcam pic.twitter.com/ScogyFHhhs
— WNBA (@WNBA) September 11, 2022
The Aces staved off a late run by the Sun, who nearly erased a seven-point deficit with 1:24 left when Alyssa Thomas hit back-to-back shots to pull Connecticut within three. But DeWanna Bonner’s desperation 3-point attempt to tie the game fell short as time expired.
Chelsea Gray finished with 21 points for Las Vegas, while Jackie Young chipped in 11 as the franchise won their first WNBA Finals game in franchise history. They were also swept in 2008 when the team was in San Antonio.
After squandering a first-quarter lead, and allowing the Sun to control the second and carry momentum in the third, the Aces outscored Connecticut 13-3 to close the third quarter and seize momentum for the final period before a frenzied record sold out gathering of 10,135.
Thomas led Connecticut with 19 points and 11 rebounds. Jonquel Jones added 15 points, Brionna Jones came off the bench to score 12 and Natasha Hiedeman contributed with 10.
Saturday during Media Day, Las Vegas Aces coach Becky Hammon
But when Hamby came off the bench with 4:33 left in the third quarter, the two-time Sixth Woman of the Year provided an immediate spark for the Aces.
“She was phenomenal, she was ready to go,” Hammon said. “I just got to the point where I was like, my biggest, baddest beast is sitting over there. I’ve just got to throw her in. They want to play a rough game – she’s my girl.”
And Hamby delivered, grabbed three rebounds – two key boards on the offensive end – a put back under the basket, two assists and a steal.
With Hamby in the game, the Aces clawed their way back to turn a six-point point deficit into a two-point lead heading into the final period.
“I just want to do whatever it takes to win. If that means play zero minutes, if that means play 10 minutes and play as hard as I can, I want to do that,” said Hamby, who was in for 10:47. “I thought I could screen well and just put a body on (Thomas) a little bit more, just be aggressive physically. I felt like we were kind of missing that, just to bring physicality.
“I enjoy that kind of style of basketball. I think the crowd, to come back and to feel so loved and know I was kind of missed, I think that gave me a little bit more motivation.”
The Aces set the tone early, hitting 56.3% (9 of 16) of their shots and took a 25-17 lead after one quarter. The Sun wasted no time in getting back into the game, scoring the first six points of the second and outscored Las Vegas 21-9 to take a four-point lead into halftime.
“In the second half of that third quarter, they started to make some difficult shots and we could not find any kind of offensive rhythm, and missed some shots we were certainly capable of, forced some shots, and got stagnated by their defense,” Sun coach Curt Miller said.
LAS VEGAS (AP) — The Connecticut Sun might be down one game in the WNBA Finals after losing their first series opener of the postseason, but they haven’t lost confidence thanks to a stringent defensive effort in Game 1.
The Sun did what they hoped to do, holding the league’s No. 1 offense well below its season average. The top-seeded Las Vegas Aces averaged 90.4 points per game during the regular season and were scoring a playoff-best 92.3 per contest heading into the championship round.
On Sunday, the Sun held Las Vegas to its lowest point total of the postseason in the 67-64 loss, and Connecticut took confidence from that performance as it prepares for Tuesday’s Game 2.
“I mean, after this game, we have to have a lot of confidence,” forward Alyssa Thomas said. “I mean, this is a three-point game and we had a chance to tie. I think we are very confident and we know that all you need is one, and then there’s two games at our place. So yeah, there’s some things we can clean up. Of course, we can make more shots, but overall we played a hard game.”
Hard enough that Las Vegas shot just 39.7% from the floor, including 20.8% rom 3-point range — both playoff lows.
In fact, the 67 points were the fewest Las Vegas scored all season, while there were only four other times the Aces shot worse from the floor, and one other time their long-range shooting was worse.
“They play so hard the entire game,” Aces coach Becky Hammon said. “That team is relentless, and so you can never let your foot off the gas.”
Which is what the Aces learned after building their biggest lead of the game in the first quarter, a 21-9 advantage that they slowly squandered as Connecticut turned the pace in its favor.
The Sun imposed their defensive will in the second quarter, opening the period on a 13-4 run to take a 30-29 lead while frustrating Las Vegas by blocking passing lanes, limiting space for league MVP A’ja Wilson and keeping the Aces away from the glass.
“As the game settled in, we found rhythms to get consecutive stops,” Connecticut coach Curt Miller said. “Our defense settled in and got to our pillars, got to the game plan, and started to get the type of game that we feel we need in order to be successful.”
The problem for the Sun was they weren’t able to convert on several possessions, missing ample opportunities with shots they might normally make and that would have allowed them to create some separation going into halftime, rather than a four-point lead that could have easily been double digits.
“We came out, we played hard, and unfortunately they hit more shots than us and we didn’t get stops in a timely manner,” Thomas said. “But there’s a Game 2, and we will watch the video and be prepared for the next game.”
Utah Jazz CEO, Danny Ainge, and GM, Justin Zanik, hosted a press conference on Monday to discuss the major moves they made this offseason, and Ainge was frank about why the front office decided to blow up the roster. Via Andy Larsen of the Salt Lake Tribune.
“What I saw during the season was a group of players that really didn’t believe in each other,” Ainge said. “I think individually they have resolve (sic). I just don’t believe that collectively they did. So we saw a lot of players trying to do it on their own, as the belief in one another wasn’t as great as other teams I’ve been on and around. So, when we got to the playoffs, I thought, well, this is a team that’s had some disappointing playoffs and maybe they’re just waiting for the playoffs. And so I gave them that benefit of the doubt. But it was clear the team did not perform well in the playoffs again.”
The Jazz had built a competitive team on paper, but they just weren’t able to get over the hump during the postseason, as they were eliminated during the First Round in three of the past five seasons and they never advanced beyond the Conference Semi-Finals. This past year’s elimination was particularly brutal, as they were not able to advance past a Dallas team that was without Luka Doncic for the first three games of the series, and in Ainge’s eyes, that was all he needed to see to know that the team he joined in December did not have what it took to become a true contender.
When the offseason hit, Ainge’s front office proceeded to ship off their former franchise cornerstones, Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert, collecting 13 unprotected or lightly protected first-round picks in the process, and they likely have more future firsts coming their way as they’ll look to unload vets like Mike Conley, Rudy Gay and Bojan Bogdanovic. Currently, they have 17 guaranteed contracts on their roster, and they’ll have to cut that number to 15 by the time the 2022-23 regular-season starts, so at least two of these 30-plus-year-old vets will need to go. Zanik did stipulate during Monday’s presser that he wouldn’t be opposed to keeping some of the veterans on the roster to serve in a mentorship role this upcoming season, but considering that Conley and Bogdanovic are still capable of helping a playoff team, it seems unlikely those guys will be around much longer.
It’s a new era in Utah, and one that will be guided by Collin Sexton and Lauri Markkanen for the immediate future, but if there’s one thing we’ve seen from Danny Ainge throughout his illustrious NBA career, it’s that he’s more than capable of crafting true championship contenders. He’s a savant in both orchestrating trades and evaluating NBA prospects, and he’ll have no shortage of assets to construct this next contender over the coming years.
Despite rumors to the contrary, the NBA is not expected to take up serious expansion talk for at least a couple of years, until both the new CBA and new television and streaming rights deals are in place. If the owners are going to open the doors, they are going to wait until they can do so at the highest possible price (with locked-in labor peace and higher television revenue).
The fans in Seattle have been more than patient waiting for the NBA to return, but they will have to wait a little longer (they will get a taste in October when the Trail Blazers will host the Clippers for a couple of preseason games). Seattle Kracken co-owner and CEO Tod Leiweke struck the right tone (from the NBA league office’s perspective) when asked about rumors of an NBA full-time return to Seattle by Fox Sports 13 in the city.
“I’m not going to address that [rumor]. There’s going to be a lot of rumors and innuendos. You know, we think the best thing that we can do is not ever get ahead of the league. They’ve got big issues coming: They’re in a CBA discussion, and they’ve got broadcast deals coming up. In due time, they will get to this. And in due time, we’re going to be well positioned…
“The hard work is done, building a world class arena. That’s why the team left. We now have that world class arena in place. It will stand the test of time. The building is phenomenal for basketball. And we’re super excited about the Clippers playing the Portland Trail Blazers here. And in fact, two games that are gonna play here, the first NBA game in our building will happen that first week in October – and we’re going to have a packed house and in our own Seattle way we will tell the world we are here. We are ready.”
Kracken majority owner David Bonderman also owns a piece of the Boston Celtics — the ties are built in.
“We are not discussing that at this time,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said of expansion during the NBA Finals. “As I said before, at some point, this league invariably will expand, but it’s not at this moment that we are discussing it.”
If the NBA looks at expansion in a few years, as is expected, Seattle will be at the top of the list to get a new team (Las Vegas is the frontrunner for a second team). But it remains an “if.” While there is some momentum behind the idea, it takes two-thirds of the owners to approve expansion, and the only way to convince that many owners to get on board is to prove to them that bringing these teams in will raise enough extra revenue for the league to offset the further division of the television money. The owners are going to treat this like a cold, hard business.
But when the expansion talks come, Seattle will be ready.
Kevin Durant may not have wanted a reunion. The Brooklyn Nets may not have really ever wanted to trade him anyway.
However, the Warriors had serious internal discussions about bringing Durant back to the Bay Area where he was central to two Golden State titles, Stephen Curry told Matt Sullivan of Rolling Stone. And Curry was all-in on the idea.
“I was never hesitant. The idea of playing with KD and knowing who he is as a person, from our history in those three years, I think KD’s a really good dude. I think he is misunderstood. I think he has had certain things happen in his life that hurt his ability to trust people around him, in a sense of making him feel safe at all times. So all of those things, I understand, having played with him and gotten to know him. I love that dude.
“And if you said, ‘Oh, KD’s coming back, and we’re gonna play with him,’ I had so much fun playing with him those three years, I’d be like, ‘Hell, yeah!’ Then you have to think: What does that actually mean? What does it look like? … And if anybody’s saying that you wouldn’t entertain that conversation — no disrespect to anybody on our team — but you don’t know how things work. But you also understand, like, if we run this thing back, I’ve got complete confidence in my team that we can win it again, as constructed.
“So, all those things were true. And it started with me wanting to play with KD at the beginning. Yeah, it’s about winning, it’s about having fun, playing the game of basketball. And that was part of the reaction of, like, ‘Yeah, it’d be amazing.’ What does that actually mean?”
It would have meant trading away depth and the future — the Warriors would have had to send out Andrew Wiggins (to balance salaries), Jonathan Kuminga, and another young player such as James Wiseman or Moses Moody, plus multiple first-round draft picks and pick swaps.
Warriors co-owner Joe Lacob has been very public about his desire to build a team that can win now with a core of Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green, while still building toward the future with Jordan Poole, Kuminga, Moody and more. To trade for Durant would have meant to give up on the future part of that equation and go all-in on winning the next couple of seasons with the 34-year-old Durant.
Lacob and management might never have signed off on the trade, but those final steps proved moot. It never got that far. By all accounts, the Warriors discussed the trade in depth internally but didn’t get far down the road with the Nets.
Lacob’s “win now while building a bridge to the future” plan worked last season and the Warriors will get their championship rings on opening night. With some of the veteran depth gone (Otto Porter, Gary Payton II) this season, the Warriors are going to lean more on their young legs to help them during the regular season, and into the playoffs. Once there, the Warriors are a threat to repeat as champions.
They might even have to face Durant and the Nets, should the Warriors get back to the game’s biggest stage. Then we will all revisit those trade discussions again.