LAS VEGAS–If it makes the Connecticut Sun feel better, a lot of people stagger out of this city and tell themselves they might have better luck when they come back. For the Sun, that return trip would be a winner-take-all Game 5 of the WNBA Finals next Tuesday. Sun coach Curt Miller said his team can’t think about that yet. That’s good. I don’t expect to think about Game 5 at all.
There is no shame in getting whipped by the Las Vegas Aces, but there isn’t a lot of joy in it, either, and two games into these Finals, it is obvious who the better team is. The Aces are up 2-0 and quite literally running away with this thing. Their 85-71 win in Game 2 was more lopsided than the final score made it look (the Aces led by 20 early in the fourth quarter), and there wasn’t a shred of flukiness to it.
The Aces had the three best players on the floor: League MVP A’ja Wilson, who scored 18 of her 26 points in the first half; irrepressible point guard Chelsea Gray, who had 21 points and 8 assists; and no-longer-slumping guard Kelsey Plum, who blistered the Sun for 20 points on 13 shots.
Wilson gave Plum a sweet little motivational talk before the game: “I told her she needs to get her s— together.” Plum said she “welcomed” the cuss out. She sure played like she did.
“This was a statement game for KP,” Wilson said. “It puts a lot of people on notice.” One of those people happens to coach the other team.
“Kelsey and company just got off our hips all night,” Miller said. “More discouraging was that they got to their strong hands all night.”
More discouraging was what lies ahead for the Sun. Yes, they go home, and yes, they are 3-0 in elimination games this month. But the Aces are now 7-1 in the postseason. They have not lost three in a row all year, and the Sun must beat them three straight times.
“You can’t think big picture,” Miller said. “That becomes overwhelming and daunting. All we talk about is Game 3, and in particular, all we’ll talk about is the first quarter.”
That’s smart coaching. But the Sun’s problem is not focus. It’s that the Aces are too good. They have more talent and their pieces fit better.
“Their schemes … didn’t hurt us as much as just tremendous one-on-one play that got into the paint all night,” Miller said.
Game 1 was played at Connecticut’s preferred sludgy pace. Vegas won anyway, but the hope for the Sun was that they could impose their style on the Aces throughout the series—frustrate the Aces, dominate the paint with Jonquel Jones and friends, and win slugfests. Game 2 showed how silly that notion was. Vegas’s ball movement was extraordinary. The Aces had 21 assists and just seven turnovers. It is clear now that Game 1 was slow and ugly because the Aces played stagnant basketball.
“It was definitely more their style, and we allowed it to happen,” Aces center Kiah Stokes said.
There were moments in Game 3 that the Sun could have handled better, like DiJonai Carrington’s atrocious foul on Wilson: 0.5 seconds left in the third quarter, 90-plus feet from the basket, absolutely no reason to foul there. Wilson hit both free throws to give Vegas a 68-54 lead heading into the fourth. So the Sun can play a cleaner game, and they can get some energy and comfort from playing at home. But they needed to pull out a victory in Game 1 and they didn’t. Their main chance at a comeback, other than an injury (which nobody wants, obviously), is that they find some way to crack the Aces’s psyches. Good luck with that.
“I don’t see any banners,” Aces coach Becky Hammon said. “I don’t see any balloons. Sure as hell glad I didn’t see that confetti again because we ain’t won nothing yet.”
Wilson said: “I’m very happy where we are, but we’re not done yet.”
Fair enough. The series is not over. But after two games, it seems pretty clear how it’s going to end.
More WNBA Coverage:
• Aces Escape Sun’s ‘Sludgy’ Defense to Win Game 1
• Brittney Griner’s Off-the-Court Impact Remains in Phoenix
• Jackie Young Learned to Trust Herself, and It’s Paying Off in Threes for Vegas