WHAT ACES CAN LEARN FROM A’JA WILSON’S UNCHARACTERISTIC GAME 1
When the Seattle Storm held on in the fourth quarter to upset the Las Vegas Aces in Game 1 of the semifinals on Sunday, A’ja Wilson — the Aces’ best player — hadn’t heard her name called over the loudspeaker in a while.
In the 76-73 loss, Wilson made just three shots, her second-lowest total of the season. That statistic sounds bad on paper, and in reality, it’s even worse. With 10 shot attempts, and only one in the fourth quarter, Wilson’s offensive presence was virtually non-existent for the Aces.
The MVP candidate leads the team in scoring, averaging 19.5 points per game, and does so in an efficient manner, making 50 percent of her shot attempts. But on Sunday, Wilson finished with just eight points on 30 percent shooting as her team fell at home to the No. 4-seeded Storm.
Wilson has been the focal point of the Las Vegas offense all season, but the Aces failed to get her involved in a big way and, as a result, enter Game 2 on Wednesday in a 1-0 hole.
Let’s break down Wilson’s performance by quarter.
Seattle started the game hot, jumping out to a 26-15 lead, while the Aces made just four shots in the opening 10 minutes. Wilson didn’t record a single point in the first quarter, but she did have four attempts, her highest total of the four periods.
Wilson is a capable shooter in the midrange and from long range, averaging 37.3 percent from the 3-point line this season, but her best basketball is played in the paint. She scores 65.1 percent of her points from inside the arc, averaging a league-high 12.1 attempts per game from 2-point range and making 6.4 of them.
But in the first quarter on Sunday, Wilson took two jumpers from the free-throw line — one of which was blocked — and attempted two 3-pointers. In total, she had seven touches, none of which came in the paint and three of which were to help set up the Aces’ offense rather than take to the rim herself.
The second period was Wilson’s most productive of the contest, as she scored six points and helped the Aces cut the deficit from 11 points to seven.
She had eight touches, with five coming in scoring position and two in the low-post position. Wilson scored on both post-ups. On the first, she faked middle, took a one-dribble spin to the left side and finished over Magbegor as Seattle guard Stephanie Talbot came over to help. Her second made shot was on a two-dribble step-through to beat fellow MVP candidate Breanna Stewart.
Her other three touches in scoring position resulted in a missed jumper, two free throws and a whistle on Talbot that sent her to the bench with three fouls and led to an inbounds play for the Aces.
The Aces started to claw their way back into the contest during the third quarter, and they trailed by three points going into the final frame. But they continued to neglect their centerpiece, which led to disjointed and inconsistent offense.
Wilson doesn’t need to shoot on every possession, but she does need to be involved. If Wilson catches in scoring position, the Storm have to react, often sending multiple defenders to help. That leads to openings for the rest of the Aces players and high-quality shot attempts.
But in the third quarter, Wilson had four touches and only two in scoring position. The first led to a double team and a tie-up, while the second resulted in a bucket as Wilson caught the ball at the free-throw line and drove past Stewart.
As the Aces fought to take the lead or force overtime in the fourth quarter, their top offensive player had one shot attempt. It was the only time she got the ball in scoring position and one of just four total touches for Wilson in the final period.
Las Vegas took its first lead with 6:15 left in the game as Riquna Williams knocked down a 3-pointer. From there, the lead evaporated as Jewell Loyd capped a 26-point performance with 11 points and an assist in the final five minutes of play. Kelsey Plum missed two looks from 3-point range in the last 25 seconds, and the Storm closed out the victory on the road.
The Aces will have a very hard time advancing to the Finals or winning a WNBA championship without Wilson’s constant involvement. Their game starts with Wilson in the paint, and that’s what will drive them to success. After learning their lesson on Sunday, Las Vegas needs to emphasize getting her post touches early and often in Game 2.
The Aces have lost consecutive games just three times this season, so expect Coach of the Year Becky Hammon to make adjustments and find ways to get Wilson more involved. Otherwise, Las Vegas will likely be facing a similar outcome Wednesday.