PHOENIX (AP) — The Las Vegas Aces were embarrassed by their previous two games, a pair of losses that put them on the brink of elimination.
They took it personally, got back to doing what they do best and now have a chance to clinch a spot in the WNBA Finals at home.
Chelsea Gray scored 22 points and the Aces used a massive third quarter run to beat the Phoenix Mercury 93-76 on Wednesday night, evening the WNBA semifinals at 2-all.
“It was just a change in attitude,” said Aces guard Kelsey Plum, who had 20 points and six assists. “For us to get beat the way we did the previous two games, it’s humbling. You have to look at what can I do better as an individual, what can I do to help the team and I’m really proud everyone just bought in tonight.”
The Aces got off to a good start for the first time in three games and ran away from the Mercury with a 26-2 run to begin the third quarter.
A’ja Wilson bounced back from a shaky Game 3 with 15 points and 12 rebounds. Riquna Williams provided a lift with 17 points. Gray hit four 3s and Las Vegas shot 11 of 22 from the arc to set up a decisive Game 5 Friday in Las Vegas. The winner faces the Chicago Sky after they took out the Connecticut Sun in four games.
“That’s how we play basketball,” Aces coach Bill Laimbeer said.
Phoenix had to play without guard Sophie Cunningham due to a calf strain, then lost guard Kim Nurse to a right knee injury 39 seconds into the game.
The Mercury were sharp early, thanks to a lift from Shey Peddy (13 points), but were disjointed at both ends during the Aces’ third-quarter run.
Diana Taurasi and Skylar Diggins-Smith had 14 points each to lead Phoenix.
“You knew they were going to respond and today we knew that coming,” Taurasi said. “We just didn’t get the things done that you need to beat a really good team.”
Las Vegas won the series’ first game, but the Mercury won in consecutive routs to take a 2-1 series lead.
Phoenix set WNBA records for points (117) and points in a half (68) to win Game 2, then played one of its best all-around games of the season to move within one win of its first WNBA Finals since winning the 2014 title.
After being forced to play the first home game at Arizona State — Disney On Ice was previously scheduled at the Footprint Center — the Mercury returned to their actual home for Game 4, playing the second game of a doubleheader following a Suns and Lakers preseason NBA game.
The Aces got off to a much stronger start than the previous two games, withstanding Phoenix’s good early shooting then pulling into the lead midway through the second quarter. Gray had 14 points by halftime to give the Aces a 49-46 lead.
Las Vegas swarmed the Mercury to start the third quarter, dropping in 3s and getting out on the break as the crowd groaned, extending the lead to 75-48. The Aces withstood a Phoenix fourth quarter run and Liz Cambage’s fifth foul to earn a chance to clinch the series at home.
“We just fell in the trap of not being as aggressive and on the same page defensively,” Mercury coach Sandy Brondello said.
Nurse went down in agony after having a shot blocked by Wilson in the opening minute. She limped off gingerly and returned to the bench in street clothes in the third quarter, the Mercury had a hard time shaking what appeared to be serious injury to one of their key players.
“I think that threw them for a big punch,” Brondello said. “I think it showed how important Kia Nurse is for us.”
WILSON’S BOUNCE BACK
Wilson was frustrated throughout much of Game 3, finishing with eight points on 2-of-14 shooting.
Aces coach Bill Laimbeer liked the bounce she had in the second half of that game, even when the shots weren’t falling, and it carried over into Game 2.
The 2020 league MVP was aggressive from the start, looking for her shot and fighting for rebounds. She finished 7 for 13 from the floor and was a key reason Las Vegas had a 37-35 rebounding advantage after Phoenix grabbed a WNBA playoff-record 58 in Game 3.
“She became very focused,” Laimbeer said. “She knew that she had to step up today.”
Game 5 is Friday in Las Vegas.