Aces beat Seattle to capture top seed in WNBA playoffs

A'ja Wilson #22 of the Las Vegas Aces plays defense during the game against the Seattle Storm on September 13, 2020 at Feld Entertainment Center in Palmetto, Florida. (Photo by Stephen Gosling/NBAE via Getty Images)
A'ja Wilson #22 of the Las Vegas Aces drives to the basket during the game against the Seattle Storm on September 13, 2020 at Feld Entertainment Center in Palmetto, Florida. (Photo by Stephen Gosling/NBAE via Getty Images)

A’ja Wilson said the Aces weren’t thinking about playing for the No. 1 seed going into the playoffs against the Seattle Storm on Sunday. They just wanted to get a win.

The MVP candidate helped deliver both. Wilson had 23 points, seven rebounds and three blocks and made a jumper with 16.8 seconds left that cemented an 86-84 win and the No. 1 seed.

“Who would’ve thunk it, that we’d end up with the best record in the league for the regular season?” Aces coach Bill Laimbeer said. “That’s a pretty good accomplishment for our basketball team. Where we started the year, a lot of uncertainty, a lot of new faces and to have this kind of success so far, we’ll take it.”

Dearica Hamby had 23 points, a career-high eight assists and seven rebounds for the Aces (18-4), who won three games in four days to close the regular season.

Jewel Loyd scored 30 points to lead Seattle (18-4). The Storm, which played without its MVP candidate in Breanna Stewart, will be the No. 2 seed and also receive a double bye into the WNBA semifinals. The best-of-five semifinals will begin on Sunday.

To the victor go the spoils

Awards usually go to teams at or near the top of the standings, and it’s possible the Aces could win as many as four of them.

In addition to Wilson being an MVP front-runner, Hamby is a favorite for her second straight Sixth Woman of the Year, Laimbeer could be Coach of the Year and Jackie Young Most Improved Player of the Year.

“I just think it would mean a lot, especially in our league. Our league is full of great, elite women who play the game of basketball so well,” Wilson said. “So for me to win MVP would be a blessing. It’s something I’ve really been fighting for and have a dream of. But you never expect when it’s going to come. If it’s my time, it is.”

Aces’ benchmarks

The Aces’ bench has been one of their biggest strengths all season, and they set a WNBA record Sunday. Their reserves combined for 43 points, which gave them an average of 35.0 points per game for the season that broke the old mark of 33.9, set by Minnesota in 2008.

“Every game in our huddle before the game, we say that we’re going to do our job and come in and up the tempo,” Hamby said. “I think in about 90 percent of the games we’ve done that. The bench will always (be) a plus, and each of us take pride in that.”

Hamby and Jackie Young became the first teammates to average double-figure scoring despite not starting a game.

The Los Angeles Sparks had the league’s second-best bench production with 27.4 points per game.

Loyd’s heroics not enough

With Stewart sitting for the second straight game, Loyd did all she could to keep the Storm in the game. She was 2-for-8 from the floor in the first half but caught fire in the third quarter.

She scored 19 points in the quarter, making 10-for-12 from the free-throw line, and twice made it a two-point game in the final 15 seconds before the Storm ran out of time.