In a season dominated by expectations of a clash between two WNBA super-teams, the Las Vegas Aces have held up their end of the bargain.
The defending champions completed a three-game sweep of the Dallas Wings in the WNBA semifinals with a 64-61 win Friday, reaching the Finals for the third time in the last four years. The Aces defeated the Chicago Sky, 2-0, in the first round.
After getting blown out by the Aces in Game 1 and rallying late but still losing in Game 2, the Wings put together a nearly complete game — until the final five minutes. Dallas opened the game looking like the more active team and took a 36-31 lead into halftime.
The Aces responded with a 7-0 run to open the second half and take the lead, but the Wings' size advantage kept pestering Vegas. The Wings finished the game with a 41-39 rebounding advantage and 30-24 win points in the paint, while making life generally miserable for A'ja Wilson. The two-time MVP finished with 13 points on 4-of-10 shooting, 13 rebounds, two assists and a career-high nine turnovers.
The Wings slowly carved out an eight-point lead with five minutes left and then, well, Wings fans probably aren't going to want to talk about what happened next.
It's not that the Aces reached the gear they alone seem capable of. The Wings simply started missing, and that was all Vegas needed to reach the Finals. Dallas didn't score in the final 4:59 of the game.
— Las Vegas Aces (@LVAces) September 30, 2023
The Aces took their first lead of the fourth quarter with 1:45 left on a single made free throw by Alysha Clark, but gave the Wings multiple chances to win it in the final 30 seconds. Arike Ogunbowale missed a 16-footer with 14 seconds left, but the Wings regained possession by tying up Wilson after the rebound. That opened the door for Natasha Howard to take a shot at a 3-pointer ... and air ball it.
Jackie Young made two free throws to push the lead to three, and another miss by Ogunbowale — who finished the game 8-of-24 — on a 3-pointer ended the game.
WNBA one game away from an Aces-Liberty Finals
The Aces' usual quartet of Wilson, Young, Kelsey Plum and Chelsea Gray all finished in double figures, with Gray leading the team with 15 points plus six rebounds and four assists. They will now get a full 10 days of rest before the WNBA Finals begin on Oct. 8 in Las Vegas.
If it is the Liberty facing the Aces to end the season, it will be the culmination of nearly a year's worth of anticipation, ever since the Liberty added league MVP Breanna Stewart, Jonquel Jones and Courtney Vandersloot to assemble a worthy challenger to the dominant Aces. The Aces, for their part, added Candace Parker, but she's been out since July.
The Aces got this far by doing what worked last year. They finished the regular season with the most wins in WNBA history, but went 2-3 against the Liberty (2-2 in the regular season with a blowout loss in the Commissioner's Cup final).
The Liberty have already shown they're capable of beating the Aces, but beating them in the Finals would obviously be another challenge. New York will get its first chance to confirm its place in Game 4 against the Sun on Sunday.