Kelsey Plum leads Aces over Sun in Game 2 of WNBA Finals

Kelsey Plum leads Aces over Sun in Game 2 of WNBA Finals

LAS VEGAS — The Sun won the opening tip of Tuesday’s Game 2 and forward Alyssa Thomas made a layup just nine seconds later. But never for the duration of the contest was Connecticut able to stretch its lead beyond the opening deuce. Las Vegas’s sellout crowd of 10,211 people roared throughout the Aces’ 85–71 win. They cheered when All-Star forward Dearcia Hamby entered the contest with 3: 45 to play in the first quarter and again when Sun center Brionna Jones missed a pair of free throws with 3: 22 to go in the third, gifting a free slice of pizza to those in attendance thanks to an in-arena promotion.

When star Aces guard Chelsea Gray returned to action just 22 seconds later, after appearing to suffer an ankle injury earlier in the period, they roared some more and when the final buzzer sounded after the clock hit double-zeros, the crowd maintained its sense of euphoria. With the victory, Las Vegas is one win away from claiming its first championship in franchise history. But before the series heads to Connecticut, here are three takeaways from Game 2.

Kelsey Plum has a ‘statement game’ to help the Aces’ offense come alive

Aces guard Kelsey Plum was the league’s second-leading scorer in the regular season, averaging 20.2 points per game. But in Game 1, Plum put out her worst offensive showing of the year, scoring just six points on 1-of-9 shooting from the field. Like the rest of her teammates, Plum responded in a significant way Tuesday, to help her team take a 2–0 lead in the best-of-five series. While she had only two points after the first quarter, she scored 11 in the second and nine more in the third. She also tacked on seven assists and three rebounds to her 20 points. Plum’s ability to score creates additional space for herself and her teammates. Las Vegas coach Becky Hammon said afterward that Plum’s expertise in getting to the rim was instrumental in the victory. “I thought the difference really in the game was Plum getting downhill,” Hammon said.

Entering Game 2, star Aces forward A’ja Wilson felt that Plum “wasn’t herself.” “But [Tuesday], I saw KP, and I realized even in myself, like, I haven’t been talking trash to KP lately,” Wilson said after Game 2. The star forward’s message was simple: “I told her she needed to get her s— together. At the end of the day that’s what she needs to do. Make sure she understood that we need her to make shots.”

Plum said she welcomed Wilson’s comments and that she appreciated the belief from Wilson, the rest of her teammates and the coaching staff. The Aces proved hard enough to guard in Game 1, with Plum struggling from the field. But her punch, combined with 47 points between Wilson and Gray, resulted in an overwhelming offensive effort.

“This is a statement game for KP,” Wilson said. “I don’t care how she sees it. It’s a statement game and it puts a lot of people on notice.”

The Aces’ early returns in the paint set a rough tone for the Sun

Sunday’s series-opening game was played at Connecticut’s pace. The Sun’s defense mucked up the contest and held Las Vegas to a season-low 67-points, albeit in a loss. Such an effort was why entering Game 2, Connecticut coach Curt Miller was optimistic about his team’s chances of stealing Tuesday’s contest. Las Vegas, however, made clear early in the game that it would look far more like itself, especially on offense.

The Aces scored 23 first-quarter points on 50% shooting from the field, and held the Sun to merely 15 points on 35% shooting. But what made Las Vegas’s lead even more convincing was how it scored in the first 10 minutes, with 14 of its points coming in the paint. Connecticut, on the other hand, had just six.

The Sun’s frontcourt is their strength, and often overcomes a lack of shooting from the perimeter. They averaged just 4.3 made three-pointers per game in the regular season and playoffs. With limited options—they made just three of their 14 three-point attempts in Game 2­—they needed to win the paint battle. On Tuesday night, they didn’t early on, and they ended with a mins-18 differential in that area.

Miller said after the loss that his group is focused on playing a better first quarter when the series flips back to Connecticut. Though Wilson, too, acknowledged the importance of playing a strong first period on the road. “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,” she said.

The Sun’s inconsistent guard play looms large

There were moments in Game 2 when the Sun appeared to push the Aces. Trailing by 13 with 2: 48 to play in the second quarter, Connecticut went on a 9–2 run to draw the game’s scoring margin to within six. Then, after entering halftime down by eight, they mustered up a 9–4 run to slash the Aces’ lead to three. But the Sun never drew the margin closer than that, and had no answers for Las Vegas’s offensive second half explosion.

Miller said afterward that while there were stretches in which the team’s bigs had “good moments,” positive runs were “hard to sustain when we were inconsistent with our guard play.”

Connecticut guard Courtney Williams scored a team-high 18 points, but guard Natisha Hiedeman went scoreless in just under 15 minutes and wing DeWanna Bonner tallied just a single basket on 1-of-9 shooting from the field. Miller turned to reserve rookie guard Nia Clouden in the second quarter, but she couldn’t ignite the Sun offense and both Odyssey Sims and DiJonai Carrington finished with a minus-nine and minus-10 point differential, respectively. The play of Connecticut’s backcourt loomed even larger in comparison to the Aces. It will need to perform better on Thursday night if the Sun hope to extend the series into the weekend. Tipoff for Game 3 is set for 9 p.m. ET. 

More WNBA Coverage: 

On a Team of Superheroes, Chelsea Gray Is the Scientist Behind the Aces
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 

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