LAS VEGAS (KLAS) – The way players talked about relishing the experience, having a good time, you’d think Sunday’s meeting between the Aces and Seattle Storm was more church social than Game 3 of the WNBA semifinals.
“I think it’s enjoying the moment and having fun with it,” said Chelsea Gray, the Aces point guard, about her approach to Game 3 (Noon tipoff, ABC). “You don’t get this time back, so just embracing it.”
Gray, an accomplished point guard, has been to the playoffs seven times in her eight-year career, so she’s probably dishing out good advice.
Teammate Kelsey Plum, who has reached the playoffs in each of her five seasons, agreed: “You just got to have fun with it,” she said Saturday. “You work so hard to get to this point in the season, and you got to enjoy it. So that’s what we’re doing.”
For the Aces, Game 3 is on the road, hostile environment … all the traditional obstacles for a visiting team in a best-of-five series that’s tied 1-1.
Gray acknowledged that the Storm’s Climate Pledge Arena has one of the loudest, most enthusiastic crowds in the WNBA. “I said the last time we were here that it’s louder than Minnesota in 2016,” said Gray referring to when she helped the Los Angeles Sparks beat the Minnesota Lynx in the league Finals.
But so what, Gray pointed out. You play. The huddles are a little tighter, and players know they must be a little more in tune on the road.
For the Storm, it’s the same approach, said Breanna Stewart. She used the same words – embrace, fun – to describe what it will be like playing at home with a chance to win a pivotal playoff game.
“It’s just embracing the home court, embrace our home crowd, make sure we’re confident … we’re having fun,” Stewart said Saturday.
Stewart is averaging a league-best 25 points in the postseason, including 24 points and 32 points in the two games against the Aces. She’s been tough to stop underneath, especially because the Aces have used a small-ball lineup – three guards – for several stretches. Stewart and teammate Tina Charles, a ferocious rebounder, can pose a major challenge for the Aces’ best defender and interior performer, A’ja Wilson.
Gray said Saturday that small lineup means helping out Wilson, then, paying more attention to detail, getting the long rebounds, boxing out, applying more pressure on the ball. Doing it by committee, she said.
“Everybody knows everybody’s plays now, at this point,” Gray said, “so those little wrinkles, how you best defend those things, make a difference.”