Aces clinch first playoff spot 26 games in

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Michelob ULTRA Arena, the home stadium for the Las Vegas Aces. The Aces defeated the Atlanta Dream 93-72. Photo by Wyatt Touchet.

On Breast Health Awareness Night, the Las Vegas Aces dismantled the Atlanta Dream in a 93-72 victory to secure the first playoff berth this season.

   Earlier in the day, the WNBA announced that All-Star guard Chelsea Gray was selected for the Western Conference Player of the Week, averaging 24.5 pts, 5.5 reb, and 8.5 ast. 

   Moments before tipoff, the Las Vegas Aces honored Atlanta Dream center Illiana Rupert with the presentation of Rupert’s 2022 WNBA Championship ring for her contributions to the team’s historic championship run a season ago.

   Unlike the hot start against Dallas, the first quarter against Atlanta began slow and challenging for both sides. Each team faced an effective defensive presence and failed to execute early with missed shots. The Dream recorded three turnovers, and the Aces totaled five turnovers through the first.

   Gray, who recorded five points and five assists through the first, led the way commanding the respect from the defense with Rondo-like fakes to electrifying the crowd with filthy no-look passes to two-time MVP forward A’ja Wilson, who scored relentlessly with 11 points in the first. Wilson continued the momentum and finished tallying 20 points.

   The Aces managed to control the lead for a majority of the quarter, entering the second ahead of Atlanta 25-22.

   Despite a quiet first, All-Star guard Jackie Young erupted for 14 points in the second quarter. 12 of her 14 points came deep beyond the arc. Her final 3-pointer capitalized Young’s lethality as she crossed up Atlanta guard Danielle Robinson onto the floor for a jaw-dropping highlight reel.

   The Aces continued its defensive presence with seven total steals, leading to 18 points off turnovers in the first half. Las Vegas entered halftime up, 54-43, as they led as much as 18 points at one point in the first half.

   Similar to the beginning of the first quarter, the entire third quarter was a low-scoring affair. The Aces committed fewer fouls than Atlanta but were still outscored in the quarter.

   “At the end of the day we want to continue to build great habits,” Aces head coach Becky Hammon said. “Today we lost a quarter [3rd quarter, 15-16] . I challenge them to win quarters.”

   Las Vegas maintained the lead over Atlanta heading into the fourth, 69-59. The Aces defensive presence carried into the fourth as Hammon subbed out the starters with under four minutes left in the game. 

   The Aces are the first team in WNBA to clinch a playoff berth only in 26 games. The team remains undefeated at home with a record of 13-0.

   “The job’s not done.” Wilson said. “This is one thing that is like, alright cool, but tomorrow we got a day off; and then we are going to get back to work and we gotta keep going forward putting one foot in front of the other.”

   Wilson recorded a double-double, 20 points with 11 rebounds, and Young finished leading the team in scoring with 24 points. 

   After totaling seven assists on the night, Gray is now ranked 13th all-time in assists for the WNBA. Guard Kierstan Bell set a new career high with 15 points in 18 minutes as she was one of five players to score double digits.

   Up next, the Aces head on the road to face the New York Liberty on Sunday, Aug. 6, at noon. The next home game is Friday, Aug. 11, at 7:00 p.m. against the Washington Mystics.

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