LAS VEGAS — It was physical, it was fast and it was exactly what the Las Vegas Aces needed as the WNBA Finals shift to Connecticut.
The No. 1-seeded Aces bullied their way to a 85-71 win over the No. 3 Connecticut Sun on Tuesday in Game 2 at Michelob Ultra Arena in front of a record 10,211 fans to take a 2-0 series lead. They could clinch their first WNBA championship in Game 3 on Thursday (9 p.m. ET, ESPN) in Connecticut. Since the WNBA moved to a best-of-five Finals format, every team that has taken a 2-0 series lead has swept its way to a title.
A’ja Wilson and Chelsea Gray continued their torrid postseason streaks.
Wilson had her 10th postseason double-double with 26 points and 10 rebounds. She has now scored 20-plus points and grabbed 10-plus rebounds in five straight postseason games, a WNBA record. The forward already won the league MVP and Defensive Player of the Year this season and now sits one win from her first title. She is firmly in the running for Finals MVP.
Gray had 21 points, eight assists and three steals. She briefly left the game and went to the locker room in the second half with what appeared to be an ankle injury after hitting the court hard under the basket. She returned shortly after and was a major factor in the Aces’ dominant win.
A game after Kelsey Plum failed to score until the final quarter, she came out with a purpose in Game 2. She finished with 20 points and seven assists. Wilson, Gray and Plum scored 67 of the Aces’ 85 points. They are the third trio in WNBA postseason history with at least 20 points in multiple games.
"A lot of times I'm hard on myself and I feel like I've been a little bit frustrated how I've performed throughout the whole playoffs. I'm glad that they have been carrying it and I decided to join the party," Plum said.
A back-and-forth first quarter swung in the Aces’ favor after a timeout with the score tied at 14-14. Dearica Hamby and Riquna Williams entered the game for the Aces, who rattled off seven points while the Sun turned the ball over twice in the span. From there, any time the Sun made a run, the Aces had an answer.
"If we can keep our mindset and composure in the first quarter and set the tone, it's helpful for us later on down the road," Wilson said. "But I'm amazed how far we have really come throughout the season because there will be some fourth quarters where it's like wow, and others, what the world. So I'm very happy where we are, but we are not done yet. We still have to continue to push through and still have things that we have to take care of. It's very important for us to come out the way we do."
Jackie Young also sustained an injury when she got hit with an inadvertent elbow to the face that drew blood. Officials missed the call in the scramble for the loose ball.
The game started a bit ominously as the teams seemed unsure of what hoop to start on after the opening tip.
How the Aces won Game 2
In Game 1, the Sun dictated the tempo of the game and made it a "sludgy" defensive, low-scoring battle. In Game 2, the Aces flew up and down the court, pushing the tempo.
Wilson and Gray have carried the offensive load this postseason, and Plum's scoring was a huge difference-maker Tuesday. She has found other ways to impact the game when her shot isn't falling, but that shot is desperately needed when the Sun keep things tight.
"There were things that she was still doing that kept her on the floor and I think that's the growth, too, not just like, she's back and she's hitting shots. She's been like who we needed her to be. We need her out there on the floor," Gray said. "At the end of the day, you can't help off of her. I don't care if she's 1-for-20, 1-for-8, you can't help off of her because you know it's going to come back around. And she hit a big shot for us the last game at the 3-point line in the slot in the second half, and we have confidence in her with that."
Game 3 is Thursday, and with only one day of rest and a cross-country flight, it could be a mucky, defensive battle. The Aces have shown through the first two games of the series they can win in that environment or when they're able to play their high-flying offensive brand of basketball.
What the Sun need to do to stave off elimination
Jonquel Jones led the Sun with 16 points and 11 rebounds, and Courtney Williams had 18 points and five assists. Good, but not great stat lines against an Aces squad that can pile on points and pressure.
DeWanna Bonner has struggled offensively this postseason and was 1 of 9 from the field Tuesday. She is 2 of 18 from the field in the Finals for five points. The Sun desperately need her shot to start falling. She has a plethora of postseason experience, moving into third all-time in playoff games played (71). That experience is useful in other ways, but offense is nice, too.
The Sun had a long field goal drought in the first half, 6:42 of game action, when the Aces took control of the game. They cannot have a similar drought at home in Game 3.
"We are taking it one game at a time. That's all we can do," Jones said. "We are going to go back home, like you said. We are going to have our fans behind us, who have been with us all season, and we are going to use that to propel us to a win and that's all we can do."
WNBA Finals schedule
Game 1: Las Vegas 67, Connecticut 64
Game 2: Las Vegas 85, Connecticut 71 (Aces lead, 2-0)
* — if necessary