Both the Las Vegas Aces and Phoenix Mercury will be at full strength Tuesday night in a game critical to their specific playoff ambitions as All-Stars A’ja Wilson and Brittney Griner are back in the fold for their respective teams.
The Aces (18-9) welcomed back Wilson on Sunday after a nine-game absence due to a severely sprained ankle. Las Vegas, which went 6-3 without her, definitely looked like a title contender as she totaled 25 points, eight rebounds, and four blocks off the bench in a testy 100-85 victory at Chicago that also clinched the team’s first playoff berth since moving from San Antonio.
“It’s very exciting, and I’m glad I can be a part of it,” Aces center Liz Cambage told the Las Vegas Review-Journal after a game that featured 50 combined personal fouls and a technical on Cambage for yelling in the face of Sky center Stefanie Dolson. “I’m happy to be headed to back to the playoffs, and to be with this team as well.”
The Aces remained one game behind the Connecticut Sun for the No. 2 seed in the playoffs, which carries a bye into the semifinals, and two games behind the Washington Mystics for first.
Cambage had 23 points and 10 boards for her fourth straight double-double as Las Vegas took advantage of a Chicago team sorely missing its best frontcourt player in injured forward Jantel Lavender. Her run of stellar play – she has averaged 22.5 points and 10.8 rebounds in that run – has come after the All-Star missed two games to deal with depression-related issues, something she brought to the public recently in a first-person article for The Players’ Tribune.
The fallout of Phoenix’s recent on-court drama finally ran its course Sunday when the Mercury (13-13) rallied for a 78-72 victory over the New York Liberty on Sunday. DeWanna Bonner had 30 points and 10 rebounds as Phoenix overcame an eight-point deficit over the final 8:54 without All-Star and WNBA leading scorer Brittney Griner, who completed her three-game suspension for her part in a fourth-quarter fight in a game versus the Dallas Wings on Aug. 10.
Phoenix went 2-1 in those games in large part thanks to Bonner as the fellow All-Star averaged 24.7 points and 9.7 rebounds and posted double-doubles in the last two.
“Fifty-seven points (in the last two games) with twins at night time,” Bonner told AZcentral.com while sitting in the locker room with her 2-year-old daughters. “It’s just being aggressive. We need to get the wins without BG because we’re right there in that playoff spot. We’ve got to win when we can especially at home.
“It says a lot about our team. We’re still pretty good without her (Griner). But trust me. We’re happy that it’s over and she is back. Perfect timing for her and Liz (Cambage) to go back to back on Tuesday in Las Vegas.”
Diana Taurasi will serve her one-game suspension for her role in the brawl versus the Wings. The WNBA’s all-time leading scorer was medically cleared to play Monday but has appeared in just one game following offseason back surgery.
Phoenix is in seventh in the league, one-half game better than Minnesota for the final playoff spot, but also four games clear of ninth-place Indiana with eight games remaining. This contest starts a stretch of four road games in five for the Mercury and also includes two games versus the Sky, whom they trail by two games for fifth.
Phoenix won the only game between the teams thus far, 86-84 on May 31 when Essence Carson hit a tie-breaking 3-pointer with 46.3 seconds to play. Carson finished with 20 points as all five Mercury starters finished in double figures.
(Dearica Hamby photo courtesy WNBA You Tube channel)