Sue Bird banked in a shot from just in front of the free throw line to the cut the Seattle Storm’s deficit to two with 19.9 seconds remaining Wednesday night at Michelob ULTRA Arena in Game 2 of the semifinals against the Las Vegas Aces. But, with the shot clock off, the Storm were forced to foul and A’ja Wilson scored two of her game-high 33 points on free throws to make it a four-point game again with 17.7 ticks left. A made three at 10 seconds remaining would have given Seattle hope, but Jewell Loyd air-balled a deep one and the Aces evened the series with a 78-73 win.
Wilson (12-of-18 from the field) added 13 rebounds and three blocks after being held to eight points on Sunday in Game 1.
“We knew A’ja was gonna come out aggressive,” said Storm head coach Noelle Quinn. “And we gameplanned for that, schemed for that. And I thought she did what she had to do.”
Breanna Stewart, who has scored at least 15 points in every playoff game of her career, put together another masterpiece in defeat, scoring 32 points to go along with seven rebounds, three assists and three blocks.
It was a classic showdown between the top two MVP candidates.
“I think that matching up against A’ja, you have to respect everything that she has done and what she’s capable of,” Stewart said. “And it’s just a battle. It’s what motivates you, what keeps you going, what makes you want to be better. And it’s competitive. That’s what you want. You want these games to be competitive. You want people to go at you so you can go at them.”
Vegas’ small lineup was simply too much for the Storm, but expect adjustments to be made for Game 3, which will be in Seattle. The Storm can also hang their hat on holding one of the best offenses in WNBA history to 73 and 78 points in Games 1 and 2, respectively.
“We did that without Gabby and that's what I’m most impressed with,” Quinn said. “A Second Team All-Defensive defender and very capable. And so, we’re encouraged. We are going to continue to do whatever we need to do schematically to limit their potent offense. But to hold this team to 80, and I don't know if that’s been done twice in a row this year, we’ll take that and we’ll continue to build on that.”
Tina Charles backed Stewart up with 17 points and nine boards, but Loyd was held to just eight points after scoring a game-high 26 in Game 1. Stephanie Talbot had a solid stat line of six points, eight boards and three helpers, while Bird added six points and six helpers. Bird is averaging 9.3 assists over her last three games.
Things were pretty even in field goal shooting, 3-point shooting, rebounding and turnovers, but the Aces attempted 12 more free throws and made seven more. Seattle was a perfect 11-of-11 at the line with Stewart going 5-of-5.
“Physical, hard-fought game,” Stewart said. ”Obviously didn’t go the way that we wanted. We had a lot of opportunities to kind get the game back on our side and take momentum. And we knew that they were gonna come out guns blazing. They had to, you know, they don’t wanna go down 0-2. But we’re gonna continue to learn from this game. We’re going home and looking forward to really playing back in front of our fans.”