The Las Vegas Aces couldn’t of asked for a better start to the Semifinals, up seven at the half on the road against the top seeded team in the league. They were shooting 60% from the floor and 80% from beyond the arc at that point. Washington got some big shots to go down by Toliver and Delle Donne throughout the second half, but the visitors defense gave them a chance by locking up home team for the last four minutes of the game. After a Delle Donne miss, the crowd felt there was a ton of contact, but the Aces got the ball and raced up court. Kelsey Plum lofted a runner from the foul line but it didn’t fall. The Mystics held on for the 97-95 Game 1 win.
Bill Laimbeer said he positioned himself close to an official on Washington’s final possession so he could call timeout if his team came up with the ball. “I called timeout five times” said the Las Vegas head coach in the post game press conference. Still, not he or his players considered that final sequence to be why they came up short in Game 1.
“Sometimes it’s better to survive” said Mystics coach Mike Thibault. His team was able to do just that, Delle Donne sited “jitters” for some of the issues for the home team in this one. Thibault also said that was one of the worst defensive halves of the season his team played, referring to the first half of this contest.
The Mystics got a huge game out of Emma Meesseman, she wasn’t a part of the Finals run last season, but they had to be happy she’s here for this postseason. Her 27 points and 10 rebounds were needed on a night where Washington struggled on both ends of the floor. Elena Delle Donne had 24 points and six rebounds, while Natasha Cloud had 12 points and no turnovers.
A’Ja Wilson led the Aces with 23 points and seven rebounds, Liz Cambage had 19 points and 12 rebounds. Kayla McBride also had 19 points, providing timely shots for her team routinely through the contest.
One area of the game in which the Aces took advantage of the Mystics was in transition. There were several cross matches on the defensive end and poor communication by Washington led to several easy run outs and scores for Las Vegas. The Aces also got more production from their bench, Kelsey Plum had 16 points and Dearica Hamby provided nine points and eight rebounds.
The Mystics had one of the better benches in the league throughout the regular season, they didn’t receive the type of minutes tonight. Tianna Hawkins didn’t have a big night offensively, but her physicality helped settle Washington down in the second half when they were able to get stops.
The Aces used their defense to erase two double digit leads in the second half, their ball pressure was outstanding during those stretches. Forcing the Mystics to get into their offense late and they sent a double to Delle Donne once she had her back turned to the defense. It helped them regain control of the game, especially late.
Elena Delle Donne had several moments across the game where she hit big shots, Toliver hit a huge step back three at the end of the third to give Washington some breathing room. Still, the Mystics are going to have to match the physicality in which the Aces play. As Laimbeer said post game, it’ll be a “chess match” between both coaches choosing when to utilize their small or big lineups.
It will be interesting to see the adjustments made for Game 2 by both coaches and to see which players from each team rise to the occasion. Las Vegas just has to steal one as the road team, Washington has the opportunity to go up two games. Thursday night should be another physical contest.