After getting pushed around in the first two games of their WNBA semifinal series against the Washington Mystics, Liz Cambage and the Las Vegas Aces finally pushed back in Game 3.
Needing another big-time performance from Cambage and A’ja Wilson to stave off elimination once more, Las Vegas’ frontcourt duo looks to force a decisive fifth game Tuesday night when they host Washington in Game 4.
Cambage and Wilson had not played all that poorly in the first two games, with Cambage totaling 42 points and 22 rebounds while recording double-doubles in the two losses in the nation’s capital. But the 6-foot-8 All-Star center made it a point to use her size advantage in the low post Sunday, scoring a playoff career-high 28 points on 12-of-15 shooting to power Las Vegas to a 92-75 win Sunday and extend the series.
Wilson added 21 on 8-of-14 shooting as the pair set the tone with 14 of the Aces’ first 16 points. Cambage also fired a warning shot across the bow for this game in her post-game interview in which she said, “They’ve got small forwards guarding me. If they can’t handle it get in the weight room or get out of the post. That’s what I’m doing. I’m doing my thing inside.”
Some Mystics players were bemused by the comments, taking to social media to show their various strength skills and workouts. Coach Mike Thibault, though, was more agitated by his team’s struggles on offense as Washington shot 38.6 percent after connecting at 44.7 percent and better in the first two contests.
“This is the first really stinker game we’ve had in a long time,” Thibault told The Washington Post. “(The Aces) were the more desperate team.”
Also a point of frustration for Thibault was the eight second-quarter turnovers – nearly as many as the 10 they had in the first two games combined — that contributed to the Aces holding the Mystics to 13 second-quarter points and grabbing a 10-point halftime lead. He noted the turnovers “were not good” and that it allowed the Aces to “put more pressure on us, and we didn’t shoot the ball well. That was the difference.”
Newly minted MVP Elena Delle Donne scored 22 points, but Washington’s other four starters combined for just 18 on 7-of-28 shooting. It was the first off night in the series for forward Emma Meesseman, who was held to six points on 3-of-8 shooting after totaling 57 points in the first two games as the Mystics ran their pick-and-pop offense to near-perfection.
Las Vegas made a key adjustment defensively in that regard, opting to switch on the ball screen and take its chances against a dribble-drive as opposed to leaving a jump-shooter open since the undersized Mystics do not have a well-defined low-post game to put Cambage and Wilson in foul trouble.
“Across the board, we were engaged,” Aces coach Bill Laimbeer said to the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “We had a better bounce in our step. We were aggressive defensively and it showed. It was quite obvious they didn’t get quite the number of open looks that they had the last game.”
If the Mystics can close out the series, they will open the WNBA Finals at home versus the Connecticut Sun on Sunday. Should the Aces again extend the series, the decisive fifth game will be played Thursday night in Washington D.C.
(A’ja Wilson photo courtesy WNBA official Twitter account)