LAS VEGAS (AP) — A’ja Wilson punched the air after big shots, yelled following key plays and all but willed Las Vegas to victory as Aces fans repeatedly chanted “M-V-P!”
The big lesson is don’t tick off A’ja Wilson.
After saying it “hurt like hell” to just miss out on winning her third MVP, she responded on Tuesday night with 30 points and 11 rebounds to help lift the Las Vegas Aces to a 91-84 victory over the Dallas Wings and 2-0 series lead in the WNBA semifinals.
Wilson is the first player in WNBA playoffs history with three consecutive 30-point games.
“She plays her freakin’ heart out every single night on both ends,” Aces point guard Chelsea Gray said. “It’s a luxury to be able to play with somebody like her.”
The top-seeded Aces can close out the best-of-five series when it shifts to Dallas on Friday. Teams that have taken a 2-0 leads have won all 16 WNBA playoffs series, according to ESPN.
“I think we do some things really well which pose problems for them, but it’s hard to simulate that kind of emotion that will be coming from a very angry (Wings) locker room,” Las Vegas coach Becky Hammon said. “I don’t want us to be content. We still have a lot more work to do. We have a lot more basketball in front of us. I expect it to be an all-out war in Dallas.”
Las Vegas also received contributions from Gray with 23 points and eight assists, Kelsey Plum with 18 points, and Jackie Young with 13 points and nine rebounds.
Arike Ogunbowale led No. 4 Dallas with 24 points, Natasha Howard had 20 points and 10 rebounds, Teaira McCowan added 12 points and 10 rebounds, and Satou Sabally scored 13 points.
Wilson came out determined, scoring 10 points and collecting four rebounds in the first quarter. After driving by Howard for a transition layup and 3-point play late in the period, Wilson punched both fists and yelled.
“I mean, it’s playoff basketball,” Wilson said. “A lot of people wish they were where we are today, and I am grateful to be in this space where I am able to play along amazing athletes. I’m playing the game that I love, so I wear my emotions on my sleeve.”
It was quite a different emotion from earlier when she found out the MVP award went to Breanna Stewart of the New York Liberty and Wilson said it was difficult news to accept.
The two are expected to meet in the WNBA Finals, but both teams still have unfinished business. The Wings showed they had no intention of making it easy for the Aces. Dallas went on a 14-2 run from late in the second quarter to early in the second half to come to within 44-43.
The Wings tied the game at 49 before Plum put the Aces back in front for good with a 3-pointer to ignite an 11-2 run.
But Dallas didn’t go away, cutting the deficit to 73-68 early in the fourth quarter and staying within reach the rest of the way. Ogunbowale’s long past to Howard for the layup on the fast break brought the Wings to within 85-81 with 1:36 left before the Aces survived with the victory.
If the Wings want to extend their season, they will have to do more than make it close at the end, and maybe that will happen in more familiar surroundings.
“They went on those different runs and then we battled back, and then they would go on another run and we would have to battle back,” Dallas coach Latricia Trammell said. “We’ve got to sustain, hang close and execute at a high level of what we want to do.”
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