Aces defeat Sky to win second annual Commissioner’s Cup championship

The Sky went 0-for-8 from deep in the first quarter. (Their most attempts without connecting in any quarter before Tuesday was seven.) They finished shooting 20% from three-point range and gave up 18 points off 13 turnovers.

SHARE Aces defeat Sky to win second annual Commissioner’s Cup championship
The Las Vegas Aces’ Kiah Stokes, right, pressures the Sky’s Emma Meesseman during the Commissioner’s Cup championship.

The Las Vegas Aces’ Kiah Stokes, right, pressures the Sky’s Emma Meesseman during the Commissioner’s Cup championship.

Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

Tuesday night’s Commissioner’s Cup championship game between the Sky and the Aces was starting to feel awfully familiar.

Exactly five weeks earlier, the Sky completed a 28-point comeback, the largest in WNBA history, to beat the Aces on their home court in Las Vegas. This time, at Wintrust Arena, it was a 23-point hole the Sky were tasked with climbing out of. The teams were competing for a $500,000 prize pool, with the winning team’s players earning $30,000 each and the losing team’s players earning $10,000 each.

The Sky entered the fourth quarter down 10 and pulled within seven but ultimately couldn’t repeat history, falling 93-83.

“We’re not going to make excuses — that’s not what we’re going to do,” Candace Parker said. “There were one or two shots [in the fourth quarter] where we could have cut the lead to five. Those are all ifs, and really it boils down to [the] first quarter.”

Parker, who had a double-double by the second quarter, finished with 20 points and 14 rebounds. Forwards Kahleah Copper and Emma Meesseman had 18 points each. Guard Courtney Vandersloot, back in action and unrestricted in her minutes after missing four games in concussion protocol, finished with eight points, four assists and two steals.

Guard Kelsey Plum had a game-high 24 points and led the Aces’ charge in the first quarter, shooting 4-for-4 from three-point range. Center A’ja Wilson had a double-double with 17 points and 17 rebounds, and guard Chelsea Gray finished with 19 points, five assists, four rebounds and a steal to earn MVP honors.

“It seemed like we weren’t ready to play at the beginning of the game,” Sky coach and general manager James Wade said. “That may have been on me.”

The final game of the second annual competition added another page to the rivalry between the Sky and Aces, which started in 2019 with Dearica Hamby’s infamous 38-foot game-winning heave to eliminate the Sky from the playoffs.

Aces coach Becky Hammon falls on the side of believing “rivalry” is too strong a term at this stage.

“We haven’t won anything,” she said before Tuesday’s game.

Then that changed.

The Aces came out strong, suffocating the Sky’s free-flowing offense. The Sky went 0-for-8 from deep in the first quarter. (Their most attempts without connecting in any quarter before Tuesday was seven.) They finished shooting 20% from three-point range and gave up 18 points off 13 turnovers.

The Sky outscored the Aces in the second and third quarters and matched them in the fourth, making a strong attempt at overcoming the deficit by getting to the rim. The Sky are second in the WNBA in percentage of points scored in the paint (48.2%) and finished Tuesday with 42.

“I can only speak for myself, [but their 28-point comeback] was in the back of my mind,” Wilson said. “The biggest thing was containing their runs. They played us through and through and gave us a run for our money.”

The Commissioner’s Cup competition — in which teams earn points based on 10 regular-season games against conference rivals, with the top teams from each conference facing off for the championship — has begun to earn more respect among players and coaches, with many comparing it to mid-season tournaments they’ve played in overseas. The Western Conference is now 2-0 in the competition after the Storm defeated the Sun last year 79-57.

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