A WNBA Finals pitting the Las Vegas Aces and the Sky would have all the ingredients of a hardwood classic, starting with the two franchises’ recent and very similar ascension.
In the 2018 season, the Aces (9th) and Sky (10th) were on the outside looking into the eight-team playoff field. The following year, they both earned a berth.
When they met that year in a second-round, single-elimination game, the Aces eliminated the Sky before losing to the Washington Mystics in the semifinals.
The Sky (21-7) and Aces (20-8) are separated by one spot in the standings for the third time in five years, but as the defending champions, the Sky get to look on while the Aces try to play catch-up.
“We’re competitors,” the Aces’ Kelsey Plum said before scoring 24 points in the Aces’ Commissioner’s Cup championship win Tuesday at Wintrust Arena. “We understand if you want to get where they are you have to beat them.”
The 93-83 loss was the Sky’s first back-to-back loss of the season. While it didn’t count against the Sky’s regular-season record, the exhibition game came with a higher cash bonus than the WNBA Finals. Each player on the Aces took home $30,000, while Sky players earned $10,000 each. The Finals winners take home just over $11,000 each.
History is not in favor of the Sky as they pursue their second consecutive WNBA title. No team has accomplished that feat in 20 years. While general manager/coach James Wade only strengthened his 2021 championship roster with the additions of Emma Meesseman, Rebekah Gardner, Julie Allemand and Li Yueru, he wants his team to perceive themselves as unevenly matched when it comes to facing opponents.
“We’re going to conquer [things] unevenly,” Wade said after the loss Tuesday. “And at the end of the day, we’ll be left standing.”
Becky Hammon’s Aces squad is 2-1 against the Sky in 2022, and the teams have one more regular-season meeting on August 11.
In their first matchup, neither team shot the ball particularly well, and the Sky still were piecing together their roster. The following two meetings, which they split, have been better representations of how these two teams can play each other. Each time, the Aces have sent the Sky tumbling back onto their heels in the first quarter. On Tuesday, the Sky didn’t have enough offensive firepower, going 6-for-30 from three-point range and shooting 40% from the field.
The Sky leads the league in field-goal percentage, shooting 47.6%.
There are still three more weeks in the regular season. While both teams have clinched their place in the playoffs, the Storm, Mystics and Connecticut Sun all are equipped to challenge both teams for a berth in the Finals.
The WNBA did away with single-elimination games and byes ahead of the 2022 season. One significant question when considering whether it will be the Aces who thwart the Sky’s back-to-back championship hopes is do they have the depth to compete with Wade’s team in a series?
If Tuesday proved anything, it’s that depth won’t matter if the Sky can’t adjust quicker to the Aces’ defensive schemes.
“I’d hope down the stretch in August we’re able to adjust in the game,” Candace Parker said. “But we’re going to go back to the drawing board.”