For the Chicago Sky and the Las Vegas Aces Aces, Tuesday’s Commissioner’s Cup championship was an opportunity to secure bonuses for themselves and a donation for their selected charities. But for WNBA fans, it was a chance to see the two teams that are most likely to face off in the Finals play under heightened pressure.
Las Vegas came away with a 93-83 win, and Chelsea Gray secured the MVP trophy thanks to her 19 points, five assists and five rebounds.
Here’s what to take away from the contest, and what it means for the postseason:
The last time the Sky played the Aces, they pulled off the biggest comeback in WNBA history, topping Las Vegas 104-95 after being down by 25 points. It was monumental, but not a deficit the Sky wanted to repeat. Going into Tuesday’s game, Candace Parker said the Sky were focused on playing a full 40 minutes. They didn’t do that.
The Aces opened Tuesday’s game on a 13-0 run. The Sky, despite outscoring Las Vegas in the remaining three periods, couldn’t make another comeback.
“We’ve faced adversity,” Parker said. “I’m not worried about our team when we face adversity. I’m worried about us getting into adversity. We’ve had some slow starts against this team and had to claw our way out. So I think it’s more so not facing adversity; I think we’re built for that. But it’s not getting ourselves into it.”
The Sky have started slowly in all three contests against Las Vegas, a pattern they will need to remedy for the postseason. The Aces are too talented to be given an advantage, and if Chicago didn’t allow them to put up 33 first-quarter points, it could have been a different game.
#POINTGAWDDDDD on the attack!@cgray209 // #CommissionersCup pic.twitter.com/ulbQYPKA4O— Las Vegas Aces (@LVAces) July 27, 2022
#POINTGAWDDDDD on the attack!@cgray209 // #CommissionersCup pic.twitter.com/ulbQYPKA4O
A’ja Wilson, Chelsea Gray and Kelsey Plum came ready to play on Tuesday, as reflected in their stat lines.
Wilson finished with 17 points, 17 rebounds and six blocks; Plum had 24 points on six 3-pointers and six assists; and Gray’s performance earned her the MVP trophy. When all three play at an elite level, it’s near impossible to stop the Aces. With Wilson dominating the paint, Gray driving and creating, and Plum knocking down 3-pointers, Las Vegas won at every spot on the court. Their well-rounded offense gave the Sky fits, and every time Chicago started a comeback, the Aces had an answer somewhere on the court.
As the point guard, Gray led the way. There’s a reason the Aces are always able to find the right spot on the court for a scoring opportunity. It’s because Gray knows where to direct the offense, how to find the right player, and what the Aces need at any given time.
“That’s the MVP tonight, but she has been leading our team the whole season,” Plum said. “I feel like, to be honest, she doesn’t get the love and credit she deserves, and I’m really, really glad that people saw that tonight.”
The Aces are known for their high-powered offense, leading the league with 90.4 points per game. But with all the hype surrounding their scoring abilities, it can be easy to forget that Las Vegas can defend.
Wilson led the way with her six blocks, making it difficult for the Sky to get in the lane. The Sky scored 83 points, just a bit under their average of 85.6 a game, but the Aces kept them uncomfortable throughout the contest, holding them to 40 percent shooting from the field and just 20 percent from the 3-point line. Chicago couldn’t get in a rhythm, and that stopped them from completing the comeback.
“It’s a mindset,” Wilson said. “It’s a heart decision. Defense doesn’t take a lot. You don’t have to be necessarily talented to play defense. You just have to want it.”
That type of intensity is something Wilson wants to see from her squad the rest of the season, a trend that would bode well for their WNBA title chances.
“I was telling KP, ‘This doesn’t have to be just a Commissioner’s Cup game,'” she said. “This could be an every-game thing for us. But it’s just a shift of the mindset.”
#️⃣2️⃣2️⃣ with the big time block!@_ajawilson22 // #ALLIN pic.twitter.com/LHa7Z7c1QX— Las Vegas Aces (@LVAces) July 27, 2022
#️⃣2️⃣2️⃣ with the big time block!@_ajawilson22 // #ALLIN pic.twitter.com/LHa7Z7c1QX
After sitting out four games for concussion protocol, Vandersloot made her return against the Aces, but she clearly wasn’t in top form. The point guard finished with eight points and four assists in 22 minutes of play.
The Sky managed to win three of four games in Vanderlsoot’s absence, but they need her on the court in the long run. She didn’t look like herself against the Aces, but expect that to change the next time the teams meet in the second-to-last regular season game on Aug. 11. Las Vegas can’t count on her underperforming due to injury again.
Las Vegas and Chicago are the two top teams in the WNBA, so when they play, the winner will be the squad that does everything right. Chicago made too many mistakes on Tuesday, while the Aces remained consistent throughout the game. Playing at a high level for 40 minutes is an obvious key to victory, but these teams are talented enough to take a few minutes, even full quarters off, against other opponents and still pull off a victory.
Against the other top team in the league, that isn’t possible. The Aces proved that, with their dominant first quarter sealing the victory.
“Early on, I feel like we were very passive,” Parker said. “Credit to them — they came out and threw the first punch. But for us to get down 33-14 in the first quarter, I don’t know what it was, 14-0 or something, I don’t know, but that’s not the way we wanted to come out and play.”
Chicago outscored the Aces 69-60 the rest of the way, but Las Vegas’ steadiness won out.
Eden Laase is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @eden_laase.