From the very beginning of Game 3 in Las Vegas, it was clear the Aces were determined to capitalize on their height advantage down low. So what did that entail? They channeled their inner Coach Smiley from the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and proceeded to give it to Liz.
Liz Cambage being guarded by LaToya Sanders in the paint with her back to the basket? Give it to Liz. Cambage garnering defensive attention from multiple Mystics players? Give it to Liz. Cambage on the block with limited air space? Doesn’t matter, give it to Liz.
And Washington couldn’t do anything about it, as Cambage racked up 28 points on 12 of 15 shooting to help Las Vegas to a 92–75 win and give the Aces their first win in the best-of-five series.
Cambage—who gave one of her trademark faces after being informed that she’d scored 28—wasn’t shy about describing her dominance in the post during ESPN’s postgame interview. “They got small forwards guarding me,” she said. “If they can’t handle it, get in the weight room or get out of the post. So that’s what I’m doing. I’m just doing my thing inside.”
And looking at Cambage’s shot chart from the game, it’s hard to argue against giving her as many offensive possessions as the Aces can afford.
A’ja Wilson also did work in the post, notching 21 points on 57.1% shooting and really exposing Washington’s lack of interior defensive threats. Much of those defensive assignments were undertaken by Emma Meesseman, Sanders and even Elena Delle Donne, with none of them containing Wilson or Cambage.
The Mystics were also held in check by the stifling the Aces' defense. Vegas really keyed in on Meesseman, who had gone off the past two games for 57 points, holding her to only six points in Game 3 and frustrating her and nearly every other Mystic looking to get a shot off.
Delle Donne, Kristi Toliver and Aerial Powers were the only ones to score in double digits—an astonishing fact for one of the most historically dominant offensive teams in WNBA history. Washington’s offense transformed from a free-flowing machine to a system where players were just trying to get shots off before Vegas clamped down again. The Mystics made only 11 of their 33 3-point attempts and finished with a team field goal percentage of 38.6%.
Meanwhile, the Aces’ offense was purring, with Kelsey Plum—who has really seen her skills as a point guard elevate through the later part of the season and into the playoffs—throwing dime after dime, finishing with a game-high nine assists.
Kayla McBride also chipped in 18 points and Dearica Hamby recorded 10 to help round out Vegas’ offensive explosion.
The Aces made a massive statement Sunday. If Washington wants to win this series and advance to the Finals, it will have to find a way to stop Cambage and overcome the WNBA’s best defensive team. If Game 3 is any indication, despite coming into Sunday facing elimination, the Aces plan of “Give it to Liz” could mean the chances of there being Finals basketball in Vegas’ future might not be as far-fetched as many have thought.
While Sunday's first game seemed to be constantly played at a frantic pace with plenty of fieriness on the court, the second started like a rock fight, with both teams struggling to produce consistently on the offensive end.
The Sun were able to break out of that malaise, especially in the third quarter when they appeared to nail nearly every jumper they took. Meanwhile, the Sparks—minus Nneka Ogwumike, who finished with 17 points and seemed to be one of the only members of the Sparks to truly realize the urgency of the situation—never really managed to get out of second gear, losing 78–56 as Connecticut booked its ticket to the Finals.
Game 3 in Long Beach from a Sparks’ point of view just seemed a little “off.” Candace Parker hardly got off the bench, playing a mere 11 minutes and recording four points and two assists for an L.A. team that desperately could have used a good offensive game from her.
The Sparks’ starting backcourt had another poor game, with eight points between Chelsea Gray and Riquna Williams—the Sun backcourt, on the other hand, combined for 46. In truth, Nneka Ogwumike was the only one in a Sparks uniform to have a good offensive game, with the next highest scorer being Chelsea Gray with ... seven points.
As for the Sun, they really couldn’t be in a better position. Their defense looked dominant this series, allowing 66.3 points per game while players like Alyssa Thomas, Jasmine Thomas and Jonquel Jones made themselves known on the defensive end.
Now they have a week to rest up before either hosting the Aces or traveling to Washington to face the Mystics. If Courtney Williams can keep up her hot shooting, Alyssa Thomas can keep being a bully on the court and Jones—who didn’t even really have a good day in Game 3!—can bring her stretchy game to the Finals, they have a real shot at the title for the first time since they made it in 2005. Oh and also having more Don Williams in our lives is never a bad thing.
No matter who advances, we’ll have a fun three to five games on our hands.