As expected it was an easy start to the playoffs for the Las Vegas Aces. They never trailed in Game 1 against the Chicago Sky on Wednesday night, and led by as much as 32 en route to a 87-59 win. “Playoff Chelsea” Gray led the way with 20 points, four rebounds, seven assists, two steals and two blocks.
The defending champion Las Vegas Aces finished the regular season on a four-game winning streak to set a new WNBA single-season record of 34 wins, and. Now, they’ll begin their quest to become the first repeat champions since the 2001 and 2002 Los Angeles Sparks with a first-round matchup against the Chicago Sky.
This was a difficult season for the Sky, who lost nearly their entire championship core in the winter, then saw head coach and GM James Wade resign suddenly in July. Heading into the final few weeks their chances of getting a playoff spot seemed slim, but they rallied and won five of their last six games to earn the eighth and final spot.
Ahead of this best-of-three opening-round series, here’s everything you need to know:
(1) Las Vegas Aces vs. (8) Chicago Sky
Game 1: Aces 87, Sky 59 (Aces lead 1-0)
Game 2: Sky at Aces, Sunday, Sept. 17 — 3 p.m. ET
- Date: Sunday, Sept. 17 | Time: 3 p.m. ET
- Location: Michelob Ultra Arena — Las Vegas, Nevada
- TV channel: ABC | Live stream: fubo (try for free)
- Odds: Not yet released
Game 3*: Aces at Sky, Wednesday, Sept. 20 — TBD
Players to watch
Aces: Chelsea Gray
A’ja Wilson is the Aces’ best player, but Gray is the player to watch in this series, and throughout the playoffs. She was unstoppable in the playoffs last season en route to the Aces’ title, averaging 21.7 points, seven assists and 3.8 rebounds on other-worldly 61.1/54.4/83.3 shooting splits. Can she once again elevate her game in the postseason? If so, the Aces will be extremely difficult to beat.
Sky: Kahleah Copper
The Sky go as Copper goes. In the regular season they were 10-7 when she scored at least 20 points and 7-16 when she did not. If they want any hope of pulling off an all-time upset, they’re going to need their best player to deliver in a serious way. The 2021 Finals MVP, Copper has a proven history of stepping up in the playoffs, but this will be her toughest task yet.
Three keys to the series
The 3-point battle
Outside shooting is a key component of every playoff series, but especially mini three-game sets. All it takes is one outlier game for the underdog to force a deciding Game 3. With these two teams, it’s even more important considering the frequency and accuracy of their outside attack.
The Aces finished second in the league in both 3-point attempts per game (24.9) and 3-point percentage (37.2), but the Sky weren’t far behind, checking in at fifth in attempts (22.2) and tied for second in percentage (37.2). Chicago scored 30.3% of their points from 3-point land, while the Aces scored 30.0% of their points from beyond the arc. Of the top-25 3-point shooters by percentage this season, eight will be playing in this series: Jackie Young, Courtney Williams, Chelsea Gray, Kahleah Copper, Marina Mabrey, Kelsey Plum, Alysha Clark and Robyn Parks.
While the Aces have plenty of clear advantages in this series, 3-point shooting is not one of them. The Sky catching fire and the Aces going cold is likely the only way this series is competitive.
Aces should dominate in the paint
The Aces have A’ja Wilson, so it’s little surprise they were one of the best in the league at scoring around the basket. Their 38.4 points in the paint per game were good for third in the league, they shot 66.8% within five feet, which led the league, and they took 19.5 free throws per game, which ranked fourth.
They simply roll through most teams, and the Sky are unlikely to put up much resistance, even with Elizabeth Williams patrolling the paint. No team allowed more shots within five feet this season than the Sky, who allowed 27 such attempts per game, with opponents making 60.1% of them. When it comes to opponent points in the paint, the Sky were also dead last, giving up 40.1 per game.
It doesn’t take an expert to realize that’s a bad combination for the Sky.
Can the Sky take care of the ball?
Any team looking to pull off an upset in the playoffs cannot beat itself. The Sky are already at a major disadvantage in the talent department, and the worst defensive team in the playoffs. They must limit their turnovers or this series is going to be a quick sweep.
But taking care of the ball against the best defense in the league is much easier said than done, especially for a team like the Sky, who have had trouble doing so all season long. No playoff team turned it over more than the Sky this season, who had a 17.8 turnover percentage.
Despite having the best defense in the league, the Aces are fairly average at forcing turnovers, finishing tied for sixth at 13.9 per game. They make you pay when you do cough it up, however, scoring 17.1 points off turnovers per game, which ranked third in the league. If they get extra opportunities to score, they are going to take advantage against this porours Sky defense.
No real need for any in-depth explanation here. The Aces are the far superior team in this matchup and went 19-1 at home this season, while the Sky won 18 games in total. They should cruise to a comfortable two-game sweep. Pick: Aces in 2