2022 WNBA playoffs: Aces make 3-point history as they sweep Mercury, advance to semifinals

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The Las Vegas Aces are heading back to the WNBA semifinals for the fourth consecutive season after completing a two-game sweep of the Phoenix Mercury in their first-round playoff matchup. On Saturday, the Aces never trailed as they cruised to a 117-80 win in Game 2.

After struggling to put the ball in the basket for much of Game 1, the Aces figured things out in Game 2. They made their first 10 shots to start the game, and eventually knocked down 23 3-pointers to become the first team in WNBA history to make 20 3s in a game — regular season or playoffs. All told, they shot an incredible 64.1 percent from the field

Chelsea Gray led the way with 27 points and eight assists, and Kelsey Plum went for 22 points, four rebounds and three assists. A’ja Wilson, meanwhile, bounced back from a frustrating Game 1 to finish with 17 points, four rebounds and six assists. Nine different players scored, and six of them registered double figures. 

The Aces will now await the winner of the Seattle Storm versus Washington Mystics series. Seattle is up 1-0 and will have a chance to sweep that matchup on Sunday. 

Here are some key takeaways from the game:

Aces make 3-point history

Under former head coach Bill Laimbeer, the Aces finished last in 3-point attempts in four consecutive seasons. It was clear that would change this season under new head coach Becky Hammon, but no one was prepared for just how prolific the Aces became from deep. They finished third in 3-point attempts at 26.4 per game and tied for first in percentage at 36.1

The change in philosophy and hard work to improve that aspect of their offensive attack paid off in a historic way in Game 2. After first breaking the playoff record for 3s in a game, they kept on shooting and set their sights on a bigger goal. With 5:51 remaining, Kierstan Bell drained the Aces’ 20th 3-pointer of the game, making them the first team in WNBA history to make 20 3s in a game — regular season or playoffs.

Their final tally was 23 of 36 from downtown — a truly remarkable shooting performance that is unlikely to be broken any time soon

Gray puts on another show

In the Aces’ regular-season finale, Chelsea Gray went off for a career-high 33 points, seven rebounds and nine assists to lead a comeback win that sealed the No. 1 overall seed. If she hadn’t sat out much of the second half because the Aces were winning by so much, she likely would have broken that mark on Saturday.

Gray was electric as she put up 27 points and eight assists on 9 of 11 from the field, including 7 of 8 from 3-point land. The numbers are one thing, but Gray was getting them in highlight-reel fashion. She put Kaela Davis in a blender with a series of crossovers.

Then she dropped a spectacular bounce pass to A’ja Wilson. 

Gray was not named to the All-Star Game this season and came back from the break on a mission. Once play resumed, she put up 15.8 points, 3.3 rebounds and 6.2 assists per game on 54.3 percent shooting in 14 games as she led the Aces to the No. 1 seed. She’s kept that form going into the playoffs and in the process has made the Aces even more dangerous. 

Mercury’s difficult season comes to an end

A few months before the season started, Brittney Griner was detained in Russia on drug charges and remains there to this day after recently being sentenced to nine years in prison. Unfortunately, Griner’s arrest turned to out to be just the beginning of a downward spiral for the Mercury that is difficult to even believe.

Over the course of the season, it’s been one blow after another. Tina Charles abruptly decided to leave the team; Diana Taurasi went down with a season-ending quad injury; Skylar Diggins-Smith took a leave of absence for personal reasons and did not play in the playoffs; Shey Peddy suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon in Game 1.

Making the playoffs after all of that was an accomplishment, but they were overmatched against the top-seeded Aces, and their season has now come to an end. While no one wants to lose, many players have talked about how hard it was to keep going in the wake of Griner’s arrest and the subsequent injury crisis. Hopefully the end of the season will bring some relief. 

It’s also worth noting that this could be the last time we see Taurasi in a Mercury uniform. The 40-year-old hasn’t committed to returning for another season and will be a free agent this winter. 


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Jack Maloney

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