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Graney: Plum shines brightest in leading depleted Aces to win

She made jumpers from beyond the 3-point line and inside it.

Scored off the dribble time and again.

Drew defenders and found open shooters.

Kelsey Plum is having herself one heck of a season for the Aces.

She might have even outdone herself Sunday.

Plum carried a depleted lineup past the Dallas Wings 84-78 before an annouced crowd of 4,814 at Michelob Ultra Arena, playing 40 minutes in a game for the first time since 2017.

“It doesn’t mean anything,” Plum said. “We expected to win today. Man down, man up, it doesn’t matter. No one feels sorry for you. Just proud of the way everyone came in with the mindset that we were going to find a way.

“No one cares if you’re hurt. It doesn’t matter. You have to close out games.”

It was the first time the Aces really faced it this season — the A word.

Eleven games and nine wins later, often toying with their competition, they finally met some serious adversity.

Passed the test. Make that 10 wins in 12 games now.

Injuries and fouls

Think about it …

They were coming off a 97-90 home loss to Connecticut and hadn’t dropped two straight games all season.

They played without leading scorer Jackie Young (ankle), who also happens to be their best perimeter defender.

They saw star center A’ja Wilson — limited to just over 23 minutes — foul out with 3:39 left in the fourth quarter and her team up just four.

They watched as point guard Chelsea Gray scored 18 over 32 minutes after being knocked out of Thursday’s game and taking stitches to her mouth.

They are still without guard Riquna Williams (foot), who missed her seventh straight game Sunday.

But challenges come in all different shapes and sizes and opponents and questionable whistles. The Aces missed Young over a final quarter against the Sun when they were unable to rally Thursday. They missed her Sunday.

And yet one player’s misfortune can turn into opportunity for others. Plum and her teammates proved such, the former tying her career best in points with 32 on 10-of-19 shooting.

She’s a lot like her coach (Becky Hammon) was as a player, all fiery when attacking off the dribble, as competitive as all heck. Plum — who has scored at least 17 points in the last six games — is just a lot faster, is all.

“When she gets downhill, she’s a handful,” Hammon said. “What has added to her game is her ability and willingness to pass.

“She wasn’t going to let me take her off the court. She’s the boss.”

It’s never a bad thing at this point in a season to play short-handed. The Aces have the league’s best starting five and, in most ways, it’s not close. But such an advantage can be quickly erased via injury.

Learn how to play now without one of your best talents in case something similar occurs — with one or more bodies — come playoff time.

Learn how to adjust and still find success.

Learn how to win different ways.

That’s what happened Sunday.

A bench that has been non-existent offered nine points, seven rebounds, three assists and some key defensive help when stops were needed down the stretch.

The Aces also overcame allowing 19 offensive rebounds by turning Dallas over 17 times. But when winning time arrived, you-know-who was there to ice things away.

Came to play

It was Plum who calmly stepped back and hit a 3 with 56 seconds left to put her team ahead 75-67; it was Plum who made two free throws with 35.2 seconds remaining to make it 79-72; it was Plum who sunk two more with 13.4 ticks left for an 84-75 advantage.

She came to play, is right. All 40 minutes.

“Listen, we have six days until our (next game),” Plum said. “With Jackie being out, we’re trying to defend our home court. I told Becky, ‘Don’t take me out unless I suck.’”

Um, yeah. That’s wasn’t an issue.

Ed Graney is a Sigma Delta Chi Award winner for sports column writing and can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.

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