For the first few minutes of Tuesday’s home game at the Mandalay Bay Events Center, it looked like the Las Vegas Aces were going to spend the night putting on a show. But instead of a blowout against the last-place Atlanta Dream, it took the Aces a full 40 minutes to secure a hard-fought 94-90 win.
The Aces started fast, making nine of their first 14 shots from the field to jump out to a 25-12 lead midway through the first quarter. Atlanta, which came into the game sporting a league-worst 5-19 record, had every reason to mail it in from there.
But when Las Vegas made just five more baskets in the rest of the first half, including a 4-of-15 showing in the second quarter, it gave the Dream an opportunity to fight back, and Atlanta eventually pulled ahead at halftime, 49-43.
When former Ace Nia Coffey swished a long buzzer-beating 3 at the end of the third quarter, the Dream extended its lead to 75-70.
Las Vegas head coach Bill Laimbeer was disappointed in the play of his reserves, who he believed failed to slam the door shut in the first half.
That left the Aces scratching and clawing in a game they were supposed to run away with easily.
“Every game in this league is tough,” Laimbeer said. “[Atlanta] hung when we jumped them at the start. We also let them back in the game.”
Las Vegas opened the fourth quarter with an 11-2 run to pull ahead, with back-to-back inside baskets by Liz Cambage giving the Aces an 81-77 lead with seven minutes to play. Jackie Young drove the lane and dropped in an athletic mid-range shot to extend the advantage to 85-77 with five minutes left, and when Young crossed over a defender and drove all the way to the rim for a layup on the next possession, it pushed the lead to 87-78.
Again, Las Vegas was unable to close out.
Atlanta pulled within 89-87 with two minutes left on a Jessica Breland jumper, and the teams traded free throws on the next two possessions, leaving Las Vegas with a 90-88 lead and a key inbound with 20 seconds on the game clock and eight seconds on the shot clock. Inbounding from under their own basket, the Aces put the ball in Kelsey Plum’s hands, and the lefty drove to the free-throw line before pulling up and hitting an elbow jumper to make it 92-88 with 15 seconds left.
The Aces got a stop on the defensive end and Kayla McBride made a pair of free throws to finally ice the game.
Las Vegas improved to 17-9 with the win, moving them within one game of first-place Washington (17-7).
Dearica Hamby led the Aces with 23 points and 16 rebounds, while Cambage totaled 18 points, 10 boards and six assists. McBride scored 21.
Though it took all night to earn the win, Laimbeer was glad to have it.
“You want easy games, but none of them are easy,” he said.