LAS VEGAS — The Las Vegas Aces finally looked like the WNBA favourites the league’s general managers voted them as before the season started.
The Aces staved off elimination when All-Star centre Liz Cambage scored 28 points to lead Las Vegas to a 92-75 victory over the top-seeded Washington Mystics in Game 3 of the WNBA semifinals Sunday.
"Our focus is win our home games," said Cambage, who finished 12 of 15 from the field. "It would have been nice to win one in Washington, but we know coming back here we’d have our fans to lift us up, we’d have our homecourt – we just had to get the job done tonight. It’s a playoff series, that’s the beauty of it, you learn on the run and all of the mistakes we made in the first couple of games, we really focused on fixing them and getting the job done tonight."
The fourth-seeded Aces lost the first two games of the series in Washington D.C. The Mystics had their eight-game winning streak snapped, as they hadn’t lost a game since dropping an 85-78 decision in Chicago on Aug. 23.
A’Ja Wilson added 21 points and eight rebounds, while Kayla McBride had 18 points.
The combination of Cambage and Wilson in the paint proved too much for Washington, as the Aces not only outrebounded the Mystics 40-28, but outscored them 46-22 in the paint.
"I think that’s kind of the way we are, we handle business," Wilson said of the duo’s dominance under the basket. "Coach always says we’re professional basketball players and that’s what we do."
League MVP Elena Delle Donne led the Mystics with 22 points. Kristi Toliver added 14 points, while Aerial Powers chipped in 13.
Increasing their physical play from the first two contests, Vegas’ starting frontcourt of Cambage, Wilson and McBride outscored Washington’s starting trio of Delle Donne, Ariel Atkins and LaToya Sanders, 67-29.
"I thought that they got into their post game better tonight, we didn’t do as good a job," Washington coach Mike Thibault said. "They put more pressure on us and we didn’t shoot the ball well. The same people that made a lot of shots the other night didn’t make shots today and that was the difference. This is the first really stinker of a game we’ve had in a long time."
Thibault wasn’t pleased with the officiating, however, as he pointed out while the desperate Aces played more physically to create better opportunities, the physicality went over the limit at times.
"I’ll say that Cambage got a lot of post position where we have some people with a lot of bruises on their neck and throat," Thibault said. "But she worked hard, she worked to get the ball. I thought there should have been some offensive fouls called on her.
"It’s the playoffs."
After falling behind 33-31 midway through the second quarter, the Aces used a 12-0 run in a four-minute span to open up a 10-point lead and never looked back.
The Aces fed off the momentum of a frenzied 6,175 announced gathering and carried the momentum into the second half by opening the third quarter on a 13-6 run.
Mystics: Emma Messeman, who set a playoff career high with 30 points on 11 of 19 shooting in Game 2 and had 57 points on 23-for-37 shooting from the field in the first two games, was held to just six points. Messeman shot a blistering 63.6 per cent (7 of 11) from 3-point range in Games 1 and 2, but couldn’t find her rhythm in Game 3, going 3-for-8 from the floor and 0 of 2 from beyond the arc.
Aces: After coming off the bench in the first two games of the series, Kelsey Plum resumed her starting role at the point for Las Vegas. Plum, who missed a potential game-tying shot at the end of Game 1, facilitated the offence well, dishing nine assists while scoring nine points.
Hamby, the WNBA’s 6th Woman of the Year who averaged a career high 11.0 points during the regular season, continued her stellar play off the bench for the Aces. Hamby hit 4 of 5 from the floor, including 2-for-2 from 3-point range for 10 points. Hamby is now 14 of 22 from the floor over the first three games of the series.
The Mystics are 5-3 after a loss this year, and have only lost back-to-back games during a two-game losing streak in mid-June, and a three-game skid in early July. Sunday’s setback was just their third since going on a 19-2 run since July19.
The best-of-five series resumes in Las Vegas on Tuesday for Game 4.