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How the Aces came from behind to win a WNBA playoff classic

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON – SEPTEMBER 04: Chelsea Gray #12 of the Las Vegas Aces reacts against the Seattle Storm during the third quarter of Game Three of the 2022 WNBA Playoffs semifinals at Climate Pledge Arena on September 04, 2022 in Seattle, Washington. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

Becky Hammon positioned herself behind the microphone and shook her head.

“It was a hell of a game,” the Las Vegas Aces coach said of her team’s WNBA semifinal contest. “I don’t know if I’ve ever been a part of something like that. The back and forth, it was a battle.”

A few minutes later, she racked her brain again.

Hammon played in 450 WNBA games during her 16 seasons between the New York Liberty and San Antonio Silver Stars. Then she spent eight years as an assistant coach alongside Gregg Popovich with the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs. But in all her years of professional basketball, she can recall no game that tops the 110-98 overtime win her Aces secured over the Storm on Sunday in Seattle.

“I can’t think of a back-and-forth between two heavyweights like this game,” she said. “I mean, it was just big shot after big shot after big shot. You get two players that are in the prime of their careers, MVP candidates (Breanna Stewart and A’ja Wilson) just going at it. You really can’t draw it up any better from a spectator viewpoint.”

No script or screenplay can compare to what basketball fans witnessed Sunday.

The game didn’t start that way. The Aces opened on a tear, building a 15-point lead late in the second quarter. But the Storm refused to go down easy. Not on their home court. Not with Sue Bird and Breanna Stewart. Not in the playoffs.

So, they made a comeback.

A Stewart layup with 4:48 left in the third quarter tied the game at 52. From there, the battle was on. The teams traded baskets and leads for the next 14 minutes and 38 seconds.

(Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

With 11.3 seconds left on the clock in regulation, though, the Storm seemed to have victory in hand. Jewell Loyd had sunk two free throws to give her team an 89-85 lead. The Aces would need two possessions to catch up to Seattle, and time was running out.

But Hammon was not ready to concede. She called a timeout and drew up a play. And the Aces executed it to perfection.

“All season I’ve had the luxury of being able to draw something, and stuff they’ve never seen before and they can go out and do it,” Hammon said. “That’s a skill set and a luxury, because I can kind of read what they are doing defensively and draw the play accordingly.”

Riquna Williams cut off a screen at the top of the key and swished a 3-pointer for the Aces. Bird threw up her hands, frustrated with the defensive effort from the Storm.

Williams averaged just 6.7 points this season, but she proved the ideal player to catch and shoot in that situation. She finished with 14 points off the bench for Las Vegas, including a 4-for-8 performance from beyond the arc.

Then, with 2.9 seconds left to play, Wilson — who led the Aces with 34 points and 11 rebounds — drove to the hoop, completing a step-through that gave her team a 90-89 lead. But the five-point swing wasn’t enough to close out a win. Instead, Bird drilled a 3-pointer from the corner to put her team back up 92-90, forcing the Aces to call another timeout and draw up another play.

This time Jackie Young played the hero, scoring a layup for the Aces as time expired to send the game to overtime.

“They scored five points in five seconds,” Bird said of the Williams and Wilson buckets. “I understand that the last plays are going to stick out because they’re dramatic and exciting, and I’m sure it was great TV, but we were up four.”

In between the Williams 3-pointer and the Wilson score in the paint, Seattle’s Tina Charles — who shoots 88.5 percent from the line — missed a pair of free throws. That, combined with Seattle’s missteps on defense, allowed Las Vegas to force overtime.

Once the extra period started, the excitement of the back-and-forth affair transitioned to all-out dominance from the Aces.

“That was a lot of momentum,” Chelsea Gray said. “We said in the huddle that the momentum was on our side, and going into overtime we were ready. We came out locked in for those five minutes.”

Chelsea Gray scored a playoff career-high 29 points. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

Gray spearheaded the attack, scoring eight points in the last 2:06 of overtime and helping the Aces outscore the Storm 18-6 in the frame. She finished the game with 29 points, a new playoff career high, as well as 12 assists and five rebounds.

“Chelsea is special in certain situations,” Hammon said. “What a luxury. You can just give her the ball and she is going to make something happen.”

As a unit, the Aces showed balance and poise down the stretch, the combination of which makes them a favorite to win the WNBA title — though three other formidable teams would like to challenge that notion, including the Storm.

In overtime, Las Vegas went 6-for-9 from the field, with a well-rounded offense that included three 3-pointers and three makes around the rim. Gray, Plum, Wilson and Kiah Stokes all scored in the period.

The Storm also displayed balance in regulation, with six players in double figures, but that didn’t translate into overtime in the same way the Aces’ attack did. Seattle went 3-for-10 in extra time, getting four points from Stewart and two from Loyd.

Because the Aces kept their cool through a frantic finish to regulation and then dominated overtime, they snagged the road win in a hostile environment. They also grabbed a 2-1 advantage in the best-of-five series and took one step closer to the WNBA Finals.

“At the end of the day, we’ve got to stay locked in,” Wilson said. “We are playing in a hard place to play, but that’s how champions are born.”

Eden Laase is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @eden_laase.

Cameron Brink likes Caitlin Clark for 2024 WNBA Rookie of the Year

Cameron Brink poses with Caitlin Clark at 2024 wnba draft in new york
Cameron Brink poses with fellow draftee — and possible WNBA ROY —Caitlin Clark. (Photo by Emily Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images)

Cameron Brink already has her rookie of the year pick for the upcoming WNBA season, and it’s Indiana-bound star Caitlin Clark

In the latest edition of Kelley on the Street, host Kelley O'Hara caught up with Brink in New York hours before the Stanford phenom went No. 2 overall to the Los Angeles Sparks at the 2024 WNBA Draft. When O’Hara asked who would win the WNBA's rookie of the year, she answered without pause.

"Caitlin Clark," she said, while a fan commented that she thought Brink would take home the award. Brink later added that the extra foul granted to WNBA players will be "good for me."

"I hope it’s me," Charisma Osborne, who was later drafted by the Phoenix Mercury, said when asked her ROY prediction. "But, I don’t know — we’ll see."

Watch more of Kelley on the Street:

Dash winger Maria Sanchez confirms trade request a day shy of NWSL deadline

María Sanchez of Houston Dash during a NWSL game
In December, Sanchez signed a new three-year contract with the club worth $1.5 million including bonuses and an option year. (Photo by Marcus Ingram/Getty Images)

Maria Sanchez issued a statement on Thursday, confirming recent reports that she has requested a trade from the Houston Dash. 

In it, she revealed that the club has been aware of the request "since late March."

"This has all taken a toll and isn’t an easy thing to talk about, but I want to confirm that I’ve requested an immediate trade," she wrote. "My expectations and reasons have been clear. I trust that my current club’s management will honor my decision in a timely manner and proceed with accepting a trade."

"I’m eager to refocus and dive back into what I love most: playing football," she concluded.

Reports of Sanchez's trade request first surfaced on ESPN last week, and were later confirmed by multiple sources. 

In December of last year, Sanchez signed a three-year contract with the Dash valued at $1.5 million including bonuses and an option year. It was the largest contract in NWSL history at the time — a figure that would be eclipsed by multiple contracts in the following months. 

Sanchez spent the offseason as a restricted free agent, meaning that Houston could match any other team's offer to retain her rights. Should the Dash trade Sanchez, her current contract terms would remain intact, limiting potential buyers to teams able to afford to take on an inking of that size.

The Dash has yet to address the trade, instead reiterating to ESPN that Sanchez is "under contract, a choice she made in free agency at the end of 2023." 

Both the NWSL trade window and transfer window close tonight, April 19th, at 12 a.m. ET. The window will stay closed through the next 11 regular season games, reopening on August 1st, 2024.

Seattle Storm debut state-of-the-art $64 million practice facility

Jewell Loyd #24 of the Seattle Storm during warms up during practice on July 11, 2020 at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida
Jewell Loyd, seen here practicing at Florida's IMG Academy, and her team are in for a major upgrade this season. (Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images)

The four-time league champion Seattle Storm unveiled their new practice facility on Thursday, with Storm co-owner Lisa Brummel dubbing Interbay's Seattle Storm Center for Basketball Performance the team’s "new home."

"It's just such a special space," Brummel told Fox 13 Seattle. "I think when the players get here, it's gonna be overwhelming."

The sprawling 50,000-square-foot, $64 million property is just the second designated practice facility to be designed and built expressly for a WNBA team, with the Storm further noting that 85% of all design and engineering team members involved in the project's construction were women and people of color. The finished product holds two professional indoor courts, two 3x3 outdoor courts, a state-of-the-art locker room, and players' lounge, plus designated areas for strength and conditioning, kitchen, dining, and nutrition, and recovery. 

"This facility reflects our commitment to providing our athletes an exceptional environment that supports their growth, health, and performance," said Storm co-owner Ginny Gilder in an official team release. "It’s built for women, by women, embodying our dedication to leading the way in professional women’s sports."

For their part, the team can't wait to make the faciilty their own.

"It's amazing," Storm guard Jewell Loyd told Fox 13. "Not having to drive everywhere around, knowing you have access anytime of the day to get into the gym, to workout." 

Head coach Noelle Quinn said she predicts the team is "never going to leave this building."

"Which is a good thing for me," she continued. "You talk about having an edge in performance. We want our athletes to not only perform on the court, but get whatever they need."

All of the Storm's staff and operations will now live under one roof, and the team also has plans to launch a youth basketball program operating out of the building.

Mystics relocate game to accommodate Caitlin Clark fans

Maya Caldwell, Erica Wheeler, and Lexie Hull of the Indiana Fever celebrate Caitlin Clark
Get ready — Caitlin Clark is coming to town. (Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Caitlin Clark effect is quickly making its mark on the big leagues, as WNBA host teams around the country rush to upgrade their Fever games to larger arenas in order to accommodate surging ticket sales.

With Clark mere weeks away from her Indiana Fever debut, both the Las Vegas Aces and Washington Mystics have officially relocated their scheduled home games with head coach Christie Sides' squad. On Thursday, the Mystics became the latest to adjust their plans, moving their June 7th matchup from Entertainment & Sports Arena in Southwest DC to the more centrally located — and much larger — Capital One Arena "due to unprecedented demand."

The Mystics home court's capacity taps out at 4,200, while Capital One Arena — home to the Wizards, Capitals, and Georgetown Hoya's Men's Basketball — can fit nearly five times that crowd at some 20,000 spectators.

"The move to Capital One Arena will allow for additional fans in the stands as well as premium hospitality options, including Suites and the all-new all-inclusive courtside Hennessy Lofts," the team announced via Thursday's press release.

The Aces were one of the first teams to switch venues, aiming to take on the Indiana Fever in front of as many as 20,000 fans inside T-Mobile Arena on July 2nd. That’s a sizable a boost from their home venue, which holds just 12,000.

For those still planning to face the Fever in their home arenas, ticket prices have skyrocketed. Previously scheduled construction has already forced the LA Sparks to relocate their first five games — including their May 24th clash with the Fever — to Long Beach State's Walter Pyramid. The temporary venue is quite the downsize, holding just 4,000 in comparison to Arena's near-19,000. As of Friday, the get-in price for that game started around $400.

Despite fans launching a petition urging relocation, the Chicago Sky say they're unable to move their June 23rd Fever meeting from Wintrust Arena's 10,000-seat facility to the 23,500-seat United Center due to a concert. Tickets for that game start around $325 as of Friday.

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