Dearica Hamby brought the blue Gatorade to her mouth, but had to draw it back for a big laugh. To her right, A’ja Wilson was clearly smiling through her own sip of water. The camera pulled back from the Las Vegas Aces bench to show Becky Hammon with a clipboard.
“Foot on the neck,” Hammon yelled during a Phoenix Mercury timeout late in the third quarter. The Aces had swiftly turned a two-point halftime lead into a 19-point one with 3:33 plus an entire fourth 10-minute quarter to play. This was what fans wanted to see the former NBA assistant do in their old stomping grounds.
The Michelob Ultra Arena crowd roared the entire way as the Aces (6-1) defeated the Phoenix Mercury, 100-80, for the second time in five days. They rattled through a franchise record 38 points in the third quarter while the Mercury scored 38 the entire second half.
It’s the third win of the young season against Phoenix (2-4), the squad that upset them in the 2021 postseason semifinals. It started with a 106-88 opening night victory in Phoenix, making both of their 100-point outings against the West Coast rival. It’s the second time in franchise history they’ve swept the club.
The Aces won, 86-74, on Tuesday night in a home game that included an altercation between Mercury teammates Diana Taurasi and Skylar Diggins-Smith on the bench. Diggins-Smith has not played in the two games since in what the team has listed as a “non-COVID related illness.”
Aces reach 100 points for second time
This is the powerful Aces offense everyone expected when Hammon took over from Bill Laimbeer, whose retirement was officially celebrated this past week. The Aces came into the game averaging 90.3 points per game, five points higher than the second-place Connecticut Sun (85.5). The Sun and next five teams are separated by a total of five points.
Las Vegas has averaged 9.7 3-pointers a game, a mark tied with the Seattle Storm — the team that swept them in the 2020 WNBA Finals. That’s a jaw-dropping mark for a Laimbeer-led squad, but exactly what Hammon honed in on. And they’re efficient on them, too, hitting a league-best 41.1%.
The five starters are each averaging double-digit points and two are in double-digit rebounds. Kelsey Plum (17.3 PPG), the reigning Sixth Player of the Year who bumped up to starter, scored a team-high 24 on Saturday and hit three of six 3-pointers. She had five rebounds and three assists. Jackie Young scored 20 points with five assists, three rebounds and three steals. She came into the game with a team-best 19.2 PPG, good for sixth in the league.
Chelsea Gray (11.7 PPG, 5.7 APG) had 13 points, five assists, four steals and three rebounds. Dearica Hamby (14.3 PPG, 11 RPG) was a perfect 4-of-4 for 13 points. A’ja Wilson (15.5 PPG, 10.5 RPG) chipped in nine points, five rebounds, two assists and two blocks. Theresa Plaisance had 11 off the bench. They had 10 steals as a team to the Mercury’s three.
The Aces host the Los Angeles Sparks (2-4) and former Aces’ center Liz Cambage on Monday night (10 pm ET on Facebook). Gray used to play for the Sparks until signing as a free agent with Las Vegas ahead of the 2021 campaign.
Skylar Diggins-Smith misses second game
Diggins-Smith was downgraded to out ahead of the Saturday matinee on ABC. The Mercury had her listed on the injury report as experiencing a “non-COVID illness” since Thursday when they hosted the Dallas Wings. The TV broadcasters said she was at home “under the weather.”
The designation came on the first game day after she and Taurasi had to be separated when words were exchanged on the bench during the Tuesday loss at the Aces. Mercury head coach Vanessa Nygaard downplayed it afterwards and when pressed again after Thursday’s loss, told reporters, “It’s an internal matter within the team. I don’t know what else you want me to say about it.”
“Travelling/playing like this … getting sick is inevitable,” Diggins-Smith reportedly tweeted on Monday night. Both Nygaard and Taurasi have mentioned the fact the WNBA teams travel commercial and there is no longer a mask mandate on airlines. Washington Mystics’ point guard Natasha Cloud and Seattle Storm players Breanna Stewart and Epiphanny Prince have already been in COVID-19 health and safety protocols. Cloud and Stewart blasted the WNBA for the situation.
The Mercury are in the bottom half of the league defensively (a second-worst 107.8 defensive rating) and have lost three straight following back-to-back wins against the Stewart-less Storm. They travel to play the Sparks on Wednesday (10:30 pm ET, Amazon Prime). It is unclear if Diggins-Smith will be back with the team by then.
Diamond DeShields again led the Mercury with 19 points (8-of-15) and Sophie Cunningham had 17 (5-of-6) off the bench. Taurasi scored 14 and was 4-of-14. Tina Charles had nine shooting 4-of-15. Brianna Turner had eight rebounds and three points. She collected three quick fouls within minutes of the third and had to check out.