NEW YORK — Bill Laimbeer called a timeout with 3:59 remaining in the fourth quarter. The Liberty, who had trailed the Aces by as many as 19 points Thursday night at Barclays Center, had just made it a one-score game on Betnijah Laney’s pull-up jump shot.
Laimbeer was visibly upset as his players walked to the baseline, lifting his arms in exasperation. His team led 80-79 after letting the Liberty get back in the game on a series of runs.
Laimbeer’s directive in the huddle?
“I called a timeout specifically to yell at them to get the ball to A’ja Wilson,” the coach said after the game.
Out of the break, Chelsea Gray found Wilson for a 7-foot shot — the same one she’d practiced repeatedly during shootaround, the last Aces player on the court before retreating to the locker room. With it, Las Vegas went up by three and rolled to a 94-82 win over the Liberty, who were led by Laney’s eighth straight game of 20-plus points.
Wilson said afterward that she internalized Laimbeer’s message and went out with the intention to score.
“My only thought was, just get a bucket,” she said. “Go out there and hoop and just go have fun.”
Wilson finished with 30 points, 13 rebounds, five assists and three blocks and went 12 for 12 from the free-throw line. She’s only the second player to post that stat line after Candace Parker, who’s done it three times.
A'ja Wilson tonight:30 PTS12-12 FT13 REB5 AST3 BLKOnly one other WNBA player has had 30+ PTS / 13+ REB / 5+ AST / 3+ BLK in a game: Candace Parker (3x).https://t.co/5I3n91NxUa— Across the Timeline (@WBBTimeline) June 4, 2021
A'ja Wilson tonight:30 PTS12-12 FT13 REB5 AST3 BLKOnly one other WNBA player has had 30+ PTS / 13+ REB / 5+ AST / 3+ BLK in a game: Candace Parker (3x).https://t.co/5I3n91NxUa
With the win over New York, the Aces are 6-3 and third in the WNBA standings behind the Storm and Sun. Wilson, the reigning WNBA MVP, has scored in double digits in each of the Aces’ first nine games.
Laimbeer hopes Thursday’s game will serve as a reminder for Wilson that this is her team.
“She’s at the point now where we all trust her, but she has to be the one that demands the basketball verbally,” Laimbeer said. “That’s my horse. She’s going to produce. She’s going to make the shot. And if she’s not going to make the shot, it’s going to be a damn good shot.”
Wilson welcomes the responsibility that comes with being the Aces’ closer.
“That’s the role that I have on this team and I’m gonna take it all in no matter what,” she said. “I can’t slack off at all and Bill’s going to let me know. But at the end of the day, if it needs to be a bucket, I’m always down to get one.”