With no Liz Cambage and Dearica Hamby, the Aces started the game as if they didn’t need those two All-Stars.
They know better, of course, and the Aces found themselves in quite a fight in the second half after giving back all of a 19-point lead.
But they responded with a finish to match the start, going on a 12-point run to defeat the Chicago Sky 90-83 on Thursday night before an announced crowd of 5,150 at Michelob Ultra Arena.
“I told (the players) how hard they’re going to have to play, and I think they learned that lesson today,” Aces coach Bill Laimbeer said. “A lot of them got tired. We’re a little short-handed, and that’s part of it. We executed very well in the first half, and the third quarter we went to slop.
“It was a win we really needed to keep our seeding opportunities in front of us.”
The victory was another step for the Aces (20-7) in securing at least a second seed and a bye into the WNBA semifinals. They lead by two games over the Seattle Storm (19-10). The Aces also are a game behind Connecticut (21-6), but the Sun hold the tiebreaker after sweeping the season series.
Cambage was sidelined after testing positive for COVID-19, and Hamby is dealing with a sprained left ankle. That’s the equivalent of taking 26 points and 15 rebounds out of the lineup.
Laimbeer said Hamby will be out longer than Cambage and that Hamby wouldn’t be completely healthy this season.
Hamby is the two-time league Sixth Woman of the Year, and Cambage is one of the WNBA’s top centers. Kiah Stokes took Cambage’s place in the lineup and more than held her own with 13 rebounds.
The scoring came from A’ja Wilson, Riquna Williams and Kelsey Plum, who each had 21 points. Wilson also had 10 rebounds, and Plum finished with five steals.
All three players were instrumental in the Aces building an early lead against the Sky (14-14). They went on a 19-2 run between the end of the first quarter and beginning of the second to go in front 33-14, and those players combined for 27 points.
But Candace Parker rallied the Sky, scoring 22 of her 30 points in the second half to bring Chicago all the way back.
Las Vegas took the lead for good with a four-point possession with 3:32 left after a clear-path foul, igniting the clinching dozen-point run for an 89-79 lead.
“That third quarter was poor,” Wilson said. “There should be no reason why we should look like that. Playoffs are completely different, and we can’t be like that right now. That’s what (Laimbeer) told us is we have to be us for 40 minutes.”