SEATTLE – With 1.9 seconds left in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s game three semifinal between the Seattle Storm and Las Vegas Aces, Sue Bird did what she has done so many times before. She hit a clutch three-pointer, putting Seattle up two with less than a second left to go.
The 15,431 people at Climate Pledge Arena erupted into a deafening noise. If the Las Vegas Aces wanted to communicate, they needed to rely on more than their voices. They had to trust each other, and trust Chelsea Gray would get the ball to Jackie Young, and that Young would make the layup to tie the game.
Then, that’s exactly what happened.
Gray hit Young, Young hit the layup and the Aces players mobbed Young after she sent the game into overtime. From there, Las Vegas continued to control the game, winning 110-98 in overtime.
Even with the thunderous crowd who didn’t sit for most of the second half of the game, and the Storm fighting back to take the lead, Las Vegas kept its cool. Aces coach Becky Hammon attributed it to the trust they had in each other.
“In every competition, it doesn't matter what sport, there's going to be a breaking point. You're gonna have two choices. You're either going to fall apart, or you’re going to come together,” Hammon said. “And at the end of the day, like I looked at the stat sheet, I see 26 assists, that's probably what I'm happiest about.”
Gray had 12 of those assists and 29 points, including five three-pointers. It wasn’t just that, however, they were locked in during the game.
“Our meetings are tighter, more concise. We're on the same page. Any adjustment that we made, we’ll make it in-game and we're talking about it,” Gray said. “The crowd was in it, you know, as an away team, you can't have those types of moments. But I think it's our communication when we get into the huddle to go back to what got us here and what got us that way. We were locked in, we didn't really waver and we were still strong.”
A’ja Wilson finished the game with 34 points and 11 rebounds. Wilson has an MVP trophy, an Olympic gold medal and an NCAA championship but hasn’t won a ring. She said games like this are where they can learn how to win.
“We have to stay locked in, and we're playing in a dang hard place to play. But that's how champions are born. That's how these things go. You win on the road. I mean, they were hyped when they won game one because you need these games on the road,” Wilson said. “We just got to continue to stay locked into who we are. And I think the biggest thing is to stay composed.
“We're playing a Seattle team that's been here before and that can weather the storm – no pun intended. They know, and the biggest thing is for us to be mentally tough in those situations. So, if that means going back to our room, settling down, get something to eat and not doing anything else, then that's what it means. We’ve got to take care of our bodies but also our minds because game four is not going to be easy.”
With a 2-1 series lead, Las Vegas can take the series with a win on Tuesday. For Seattle, winning the game means not only keeping the series alive but keeping Bird’s career alive. She will retire at the end of the season. That motivation and a spirited home crowd will be tough to defeat. Hammon said this kind of win helps her team learn how to continue to fight.
“I'm talking about fighting for 40 minutes – it took 45 minutes – but you got to dig in and fight for however long it takes. And for every minute, because in these kinds of situations, like every possession matters, both offensively and defensively."