Defending champion Aces return to WNBA Finals, beat Wings 64-61 to complete sweep

ARLINGTON, Texas – A’ja Wilson and the defending WNBA champion Las Vegas Aces are headed back to the finals for the third time in four seasons after a scrappy performance.

While Wilson was denied a fourth consecutive 30-point game with plenty of defensive attention on her, the Dallas Wings still couldn’t keep the Aces from advancing for the chance to win back-to-back titles.

Wilson had 13 points and 13 rebounds, and the five-time All-Star had a tying layup while the Aces scored the game’s final 11 points to beat the Wings 64-61 on Friday night and complete a three-game semifinal sweep.

“I expected they were going to do something because she’s been on an absolute tear, and they made their adjustment,” said Becky Hammon, in her second season as coach of her former team. “Luckily for us, our defense, which is always the anchor, won us the game.”

Alysha Clark made a tiebreaking free throw with 1:45 left. Jackie Young added two more free throws with 2 seconds remaining — after the Wings had missed two potential go-ahead shots.

After averaging a WNBA postseason-best 91.8 points their first four games, the Aces had their lowest point total in a win all season. The only time they scored fewer was a 99-61 loss on Aug. 6 at New York, a potential opponent in the WNBA Finals that begin Oct. 8 in Las Vegas.

The Wings, hosting a semifinal game for the first time since the franchise moved from Tulsa to North Texas in 2016, had a 61-53 lead when Arike Ogunbowale made a running layup with 4:59 left. They didn’t score again.

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Ogunbowale, who finished with a game-high 18 points, came up short on a 3-pointer as time expired after Dallas was able to call timeout and get one more shot.

“Tried to get open and get a 3, and obviously it didn’t go in. But that was a tough one, it shouldn’t have come down to that, though,” said Ogunbowale, who was then asked why. “I don’t think we made a shot in the last five minutes.”

Before the final chance by Ogunbowale, the Wings had missed nine consecutive shots. They didn’t get a second opportunity on any of them.

While Wilson’s WNBA record string of three consecutive 30-point playoff games ended, she made a free throw with 2:56 left. Clark then rebounded after the second free throw was missed. The ball went to Chelsea Gray, who made a nifty pass to Wilson for the tying layup with 2:44 left.

Clark’s free throw a minute later put the Aces ahead, and it was still a one-point margin when Gray made a drive toward the basket and when in the air decided to pass — the ball going into the stands for a turnover with a half-minute left.

Ogunbowale missed a 16-footer after a timeout and Wilson had the rebound before getting tied up for a jump ball in the free-throw circle near the Dallas basket. Teaira McCowan won the jump against Wilson and Dallas called another timeout with 9 seconds left. Natasha Howard missed a 3-pointer and Young was fouled by Ogunbowale when grabbing the rebound.

Gray finished with 15 points while Young and Kelsey Plum each had 11 for the Aces.

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Howard added 14 points for the Wings, while McCowan had 10 points and 15 rebounds.

“They did an incredible, incredible job, our entire team did this series. Sometimes they fall in and everyone’s loving it, and great, and sometimes they don’t,” first-year Wings coach Latricia Trammell said. “At least we were in position. So I was really proud of this team and what they’ve accomplished. I mean, (in the) preseason we were not even supposed to make the playoffs.”

The Aces set a WNBA record with 34 wins during the regular season, with one of their six losses being against Dallas. They lost three times to New York, which has a 2-1 series lead over Connecticut — last season’s runner-up — in the other semifinal.

Wings forward Satou Sabally got her trophy before the game as the WNBA’s most improved player, but again struggled again in this series, scoring five points on 2-of-15 shooting. She finished 12 of 46 (26%) in the series after shooting at a 43.5% clip during the regular season.

Dallas had its biggest lead of the first half when Ogunbowale made consecutive 3-pointers and assisted on another basket to make it 36-29.

But Gray made a fadeaway jumper going into halftime for Vegas, then made a long jumper on the first shot of the second half. That was part of a quick 7-0 spurt that Gray finished with a 3-pointer for a 38-36 lead.

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AP WNBA: https://apnews.com/hub/wnba-basketball