Another game, another thriller between the Las Vegas Aces and the Seattle Storm. After an incredible end to regulation, the Aces pulled out in the final minutes of overtime for a 110-98 win in Game 3 and took a 2-1 lead in this best-of-five semifinal series.
Early on, it looked like the Aces were finally going to have one of their dominant offensive plays and run away with things. But after dropping 15 points in the first half, the Storm regrouped and played much better after the break. In the fourth quarter, it turned into another showdown between two of the best teams in the league.
After Jewell Loyd had two free throws with 11.9 seconds remaining to extend the Storm’s lead to four, it looked like they were in for a massive victory. No one was prepared for what was to follow. An entire game’s worth of drama unfolded in the next five possessions.
First, Riquna Williams hit a 3-pointer to cut the Aces deficit to one. Then, after Tina Charles missed two free throws at the other end, A’ja Wilson scored on a spinning layup to give the Aces a lead. The fact that Wilson got away with an obvious move on the game was quickly forgotten as Sue Bird responded with a 3-pointer to knock down the header again. Down to two with 1.8 seconds left, it again looked like the Storm was going to get away. Instead, Jackie Young scored at the buzzer to send the game into overtime.
It was just Aces in the extra frame as they picked up one of the biggest wins in franchise history. A’ja Wilson was once again spectacular, finishing with 34 points and 11 rebounds on 14 of 20 from the field. Chelsea Gray, meanwhile, had 29 points, five rebounds and 12 assists in another playoff performance. Riquna Williams also came off the bench to add 14 points, five rebounds and three assists.
Breanna Stewart got off to a slow start, but came alive in the second half. His three consecutive baskets in the final minutes of the fourth quarter might have won the game for the Storm another day. In fact, his 20 points, 15 rebounds, and six assists were beaten. Sue Bird, who also thought she had a winner, finished with 17 points and eight assists.
Here are three key points of the game:
1. Unprecedented end to regulation
The first two games in this series had fun endings, but they’re completely forgettable compared to Game 3. There’s no risk of being a prisoner of the moment after this one; the end of regulation is one of the most exciting periods in basketball we’ve ever seen in a playoff game. So much so that it is worth detailing.
We’ll pick things up with 11.3 seconds remaining. Jewell Loyd made two free throws to push the Storm lead to four points, and the Aces called for a timeout to advance the ball. Aces head coach Becky Hammon told the team in huddle they needed a 3-pointer and crafted a perfect play for Riquna Williams, who buried the shot to cut the deficit to a single point.
The Storm weren’t in the bonus at the time, so the Aces had to foul several times before sending the Storm to the free-throw line. In the second inning, they were able to force the ball on Tina Charles, who walked to the line and made both free throws.
Still one point behind with 6.9 seconds left, the Aces made a play for A’ja Wilson. This is where things got controversial. Wilson caught the ball at the top of the key and headed to the basket for a layup. In the process, however, she clearly got away with it with a few extra steps. The umpires did not call a trip on the play, and such calls cannot be reviewed, so the points stood.
The referees’ error was quickly forgotten, as the Storm found an immediate response at the other end. Breaking free after a timeout, Sue Bird buried a 3-pointer in the corner to overturn the score in favor of the Storm with 1.8 seconds remaining.
Bird’s 3 looked like the winner of the match and probably should have considered the Aces barely had time to catch and shoot. But for unknown reasons – possibly a fear of foul – Ezi Magbegor gave up and didn’t challenge Jackie Young’s attempt, which failed after the buzzer sounded and sent the game into overtime.
2. Wilson makes history with another 30-point outing
A’ja Wilson had a tough time in Game 1 as the Storm sent in extra defenders and refused to give her space to operate. She failed to even reach double figures and finished with eight of 3 of 10 points from the field. Since then, she has been unstoppable.
In her second straight 30-point outing, she had 34 points and 11 of 14 of 20 rebounds from the field. Her controversial lay-up in the final seconds shouldn’t obscure how special she was in Game 3; it was a near-perfect performance and a reminder of why she’s a top contender for MVP.
The Aces again played more small balls with Wilson at five, which made it difficult for the Storm to send in extra defenders. Cleared to operate in space, Wilson separated the Storm with a series of layups, jumpers and returns around the basket; she was 9 of 10 in the restricted area in that game.
Prior to this series, Wilson had played in seven 30-point games in his career, all in the regular season. Now she has not only recorded her first 30-point playoff game, but has scored more than 30 consecutive games for the first time in her career. In the process, she became the first player in WNBA history to have 30 points and 10 rebounds in consecutive playoff games.
What’s even more impressive is that she did after that disastrous first game. She didn’t let that outing dictate the course of the show and has now helped her team turn things around.
3. Gray does it again
Since being snubbed from the All-Star Game, Chelsea Gray has taken it to another level. In the playoffs, in particular, it has been historically great. Game 3 was more or less the same, as she had 29 points, five rebounds and 12 assists in 12 of 21 from the field.
As usual, she hit a few clutch shots when it mattered most. With a minute left in the rules, she tied things up with a patent pull-up. Then, in overtime, she put the game aside by scoring eight straight points. His 3-pointer with 2:06 remaining to extend the Aces lead to six was the dagger.
Coming into the playoffs, Gray is now averaging 22.6 points, four rebounds and 7.2 assists on 63.8/62.1/100 shooting. Even if you want to point out that it’s only been five games, those are outrageous numbers. The shooting, in particular, was out of this world.
She leads all players in field goal percentage in the playoffs, although most of her shots are midrange pull-ups and 3-pointers. Look at this shot plan, it looks fake.