What the Aces need to do in Game 2

Down 1-0, here’s what Las Vegas needs to do to even things up on Sunday

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A'ja Wilson #22 of the Las Vegas Aces drives to the basket against the Seattle Storm during Game One of the WNBA Finals on October 2, 2020, at Feld Entertainment Center in Palmetto, Florida. (Photo by Stephen Gosling/NBAE via Getty Images)

Aces head coach and president of basketball operations Bill Laimbeer laid out his “four keys of how we wanna do business” earlier this week heading into the 2020 WNBA Finals against the Seattle Storm. Those four items: turnovers, offensive rebounds, transition, and free throws.

The Aces turned it over eight times; the Storm turned it over eight times. Las Vegas pulled down 11 offensive rebounds—led by seven from Carolyn Swords—to Seattle’s 3. The Aces got up 20 free throws to Seattle’s 14. The one area where the Aces fell flat? Transition. More on that and a few other keys for the Aces in Game 2 as they attempt to draw even with Seattle. 

Get back...period

Seattle outscored Las Vegas 57-32 in the first half after the Aces started the game with an 8-0 run. A big chunk of that came in transition. I went back and categorized every Seattle Game 1 score, including free throw trips, as one of three things: transition, early offense/semi-transition, and halfcourt. Some notes on those findings:

  • The Storm scored 36 percent of their 93 points in transition or out of early offense.

  • 28 of those 33 points for Seattle came in the first half.

  • Those 28 points nearly equaled the total of 32 points scored by the Aces in the final 18 minutes of the first half. 

  • Breanna Stewart scored those five early offense/transition points for Seattle on back-to-back possessions in the fourth quarter with a driving layup and a catch-and-shoot 3-pointer to push Seattle lead from five to 10. 

  • Four combined misses from the Aces’ big three of A’ja Wilson, Angel McCoughtry and Kayla McBride sandwiched those two shots by Stewart. 

  • The Storm did not score any additional points in transition or early offense in the second half beyond those two baskets by Stewart. (Note: This tracking, naturally, was a subjective exercise.) 

  • After trailing by 17 at the half, the Aces got all the way back to even in the third as they kept Seattle out of transition entirely.

  • Both ends of the floor are interconnected. Making shots and feeling good about how you’re performing offensively helps you set your defense and energizes the entire team. 

  • The Aces scored 27 points in their 20 third quarter possessions. The best way to keep a great running team out of transition: Execute, get good shots and make them pull the ball out of the bottom of the net. 

  • Overall, the Aces still shot a dreadful 17-for-56 (30.4 percent) on 2-pointers. That many misses explains why the Storm were getting so many chances to run. 

Get back...to who you are offensively 

The Aces made 10 three-pointers in Game 1, nearly six more than their average in the regular season and almost right on par with their average number of attempts (11.5). Ultimately, they couldn’t overcome poor shooting on 2-pointers, where they were just 17-for-56 as a team. 

The Game 1 shot chart for the Aces via WNBA.com

According to WNBA.com, the Aces shot 6-for-18 in the restricted area compared to 70.9 percent shooting in the regular season. Their 3-for-12 shooting on non-restricted area 2-pointers was a marked step below their mark of 43.3 percent in the regular season. Even the 8-for-26 shooting on midrange jumpers was a significant step below their regular season percentage of 38.4. 

“One game down,” Laimbeer said postgame. “One or by 21, it doesn't really matter, we lost the game. A lot of things didn't go right for us today. We struggled to score, struggled to make shots. Give their defense some credit, they switched a lot. But at the same time a lot of those shots we have normally been making.”

Laimbeer also noted that he sensed frustration from his team as the misses piled up and felt that those offensive struggles affected them on the other end. Wilson, McBride and McCoughtry shot a combined 8-for-34 (23.5 percent) inside the arc. Wilson felt good about the looks her team was getting overall. 

“I wouldn't say that we were necessarily frustrated because we knew the shots that we were getting were good looks,” she said. “We knew that it was within our system. They just weren't falling. We knew that's how the game was going to go at some point throughout this season, so I don't think we were necessarily frustrated about that. I think we just weren't locked in mentally on the defensive end.” 

Swords did shoot just 1-for-4 on putback attempts and the Aces may hope for a few more trips to the foul line in Game 2, but they did play up to par in three of Laimbeer’s four key areas. The poor shooting clearly did hurt their defense. Fewer makes meant they got fewer chances to get all five players back and set your defense. And to state the obvious, the Aces need more than a 6-for-20 shooting performance from the MVP.

“On the offensive end, I can only speak for myself personally, but I was kind of locked in to Connecticut,” Wilson said. “I think I got to switch gears in my head and know that this is a different team, a different ball game. I think I put that on myself. You could just tell it, just on the court you could just feel it.” 

Connecticut was very aggressive at times sending hard double-teams at Wilson. That was not the case in Game 1. She had time to face up and work against Natasha Howard and Mercedes Russell. If the Storm mirror their Game 1 approach on Wilson, the Aces ought to feel good about Wilson’s chances to continue to get clean, makeable looks and convert more than she did in Game 1. 

Playing small? 

Laimbeer went to a small lineup in the fourth quarter featuring Wilson, McCoughtry, McBride, Jackie Young and Danielle Robinson. That lineup had only logged one minute together all season prior to Friday according to Positive Residual

Who said they couldn’t shoot 3s? 

The 10-for-21 shooting from deep may not be all that repeatable. But there are genuine positives to take from that line. McBride getting up as many as seven 3-point attempts is a great thing for the Aces. Connecticut’s Briann January did an excellent job of staying attached to McBride in the semifinals and really making her work to get open. This already looks like it will be much more of a free-flowing series, especially for the Aces’ All-Star shooting guard. 

Matching up with Loyd

Who will draw the bulk of the assignment on Jewell Loyd on Sunday? McBride started the game on Loyd, but Robinson spent more time on Loyd in the second half. Seattle’s shooting guard poured in 28 points on 11-for-17 shooting. She took eight of her 17 shots in the restricted area, including a key 3-point play in the fourth, and made all eight of them according to WNBA.com. The Aces must do a better job of walling her off on drives before she can get deep into the lane, forcing her into some tough pull-up 2-pointers instead. 

Game 2 between Seattle and Las Vegas is slated to tip at 3 PM ET on Sunday on ABC.