LAS VEGAS – Becky Hammon looked to the bench as Las Vegas Ice trailed by six in a game in Connecticut Sun style. chaotic. Mother in law. The league’s highest offense scored just 44 points within 25 minutes of Game 1 of the WNBA Finals at Michelob Ultra Arena.
They needed something more.
“I just got to the point where I was, the biggest and fiercest beast sitting there. They want to play a hard game, it’s my girl,” said Hamon.
Derica HampiThe sixth player of the year and two-time All-Star striker, she played just four minutes in each of her last two playoff games after being out for a month with a bruise in her right knee bone. At the 4:33 mark of the third quarter, the Aces were 50-44 behind, approaching the scorers’ table to a massive cheer from the 10,135 sold-out faithful.
The outstanding base streak of 24 points was not for Aja Wilson O Chelsea Gray21. But she was exactly what the Aces had lost, and desperately needed, with her out of the starting line-up and on the bench. And now, despite a difficult picnic that seemed to favor the sun and make Hamon “lit up” in the locker room in the first half, they head into Game 2 with 67-64 win and 1-0 . streak.
“She made it for us and that’s where it was a turning point and we really controlled the game,” said Gray, who has uncharacteristically run the ball above the season’s high six times. “It was all energy, heart, effort. It’s hard to do. She was cold too. She didn’t have a warm-up as she got into the game. It came right away and it was effective.”
Hamby entered after one of Aces’ 10 transfers prompted the referee to be suspended. The sun is thriving in the paint and a healthy Hamby was the best option to combat it. But she’s still not 100% on her knees and she played a total of 7:34 over two games against the Seattle Storm in the semifinals.
Two hours before the match, Hamon was cautious about how many minutes she would be given, something she discussed with Hamby.
“We have kind of a rhythm without her and it’s hard to get her in and say like, ‘Let’s go give it a try,'” Hammon said before the match. “It’s hard for me to tell her.”
I told her to be ready. Hampi ladder.
Defensively, Hamby helped force the shot clock break through the gate. Within 90 seconds, she cleaned up a missed attempt by Gray, who hit a draw hat on the previous possession, and cut the difference to two. The next time down the field I helped the Riquna Williams 3 pointer. Thirty seconds later, I intercepted a loose rebound and began a sequence that eventually led to two free throws by Wilson and a first ace lead, 53-52, since halfway in the second quarter.
They never gave up on it, even as the sun made its quiet patented “We’re Still Here” thrust. Connecticut had the ball in the final possession to hook it and the ball bounced off the edge.
“Those were the big minutes, those were the intangible things, the hustle and the bounces,” said Sun coach Kurt Miller. “She runs the floor in transition. We have mismatches. Nothing appears in her stats sheet that way, but her effort creates mismatches instantly in the transition to their advantage.”
It was the day of pedestrian square points. She hit her only field goal and added three rebounds (two offensive), two passes and two steals in 10:47 of the action. It was Hamby who turned Hamon back to him by three minutes over the course of a six-point game, and this time they need to protect it. When they had to stop a chance in a tie game with 14 seconds, Hamby was on the ground.
Kudos to her for being locked up, perhaps even willing to go mentally more than anything else, Hammon said. “This is a tough situation. She didn’t play a lot of minutes, getting into the game and being so solid gives us a lot of flexibility.
“Really, I’m just pulling the strings trying to get a W, that’s all I do.”
Hamby was emotional while speaking to the media on Saturday and said she is working on the mental side of her and flips the switch. It was a heartbreaking situation for a mainstay in aces who was on crutches the last time they got this far.
The longest-serving player in the franchise missed all of the 2020 WNBA Finals due to a right knee injury sustained in the semifinals against the Sun. It was a huge blow to the Aces’ chances against a powerful Storm team that would sweep them to the title.
Las Vegas is a better overall team than it was in 2020. They could survive a nasty outing by Kelsey Bloom, whose first-basketball wasn’t until fourth after eight missed attempts. They can still win even with a game of less than 70 points which would be in the Sun’s favour in any statistical analysis. And they don’t have to move the ball as effectively as usual (eight passes in 23 out of 58) to take the edge.
But to do so requires intangible things and Hampi was on Sunday. Little things and the energy you brought onto the court changed the course of the match for the Aces. Now that track has them in the driver’s seat of the series as they have two wins from their first championship.
WNBA Finals schedule
Game 1: Las Vegas 67, Connecticut 64 (Advances aces, 1-0)
The third game: Las Vegas in Connecticut, 9 p.m. ET Thursday (ESPN)
* – If necessary