Aces beat short-handed Mercury in WNBA playoffs
Ionescu, Howard lead Liberty past Sky in playoff opener
Kelsey Plum had 22 points, Chelsea Gray scored nine of her 17 points in the fourth quarter and the top-seeded Las Vegas Aces beat the short-handed Phoenix Mercury 79-63 on Wednesday night in the opening round of the WNBA playoffs.
Las Vegas created some separation with a five-point possession midway through the fourth quarter for a 60-51 lead. Gray was fouled on a drive to the basket and the officials upgraded it to a flagrant on Megan Gustafson. Gray made both free throws and followed with a three-pointer.
Gray made it 66-55 after spinning her defender in the lane and making a jumper from the free-throw line as Las Vegas took control.
DEFENSE TO OFFENSE for <a href="https://twitter.com/_ajawilson22?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@_ajawilson22</a> & <a href="https://twitter.com/Kelseyplum10?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@kelseyplum10</a> 🤩<br><br>📺 ESPN <a href="https://t.co/0TvsnTnplD">pic.twitter.com/0TvsnTnplD</a>—@WNBA
Jackie Young added 16 points for Las Vegas, which hosts Phoenix on Saturday in Game 2 of the best-of-three series. A'ja Wilson had eight points and 12 rebounds and Kiah Stokes had eight points and 13 boards.
No. 8 seed Phoenix was without stars Diana Taurasi (quad) and Skylar Diggins-Smith (personal reasons), and the Mercury lost another starter in the third quarter. Shey Peddy needed to be carried off the floor with 2:03 remaining in the third after a non-contact injury. Peddy's teammates were visibly emotional as Peddy went to the locker room with a towel covering her face.
Both teams struggled on the offensive end in the third quarter. The teams combined for just seven points in the opening six minutes as Phoenix missed nine straight shots and Las Vegas seven. Wilson made the Aces' first field goal of the fourth quarter with 7:15 left for a 55-51 lead.
Liberty take down Sky
Sabrina Ionescu had 22 points, seven rebounds and six assists, Natasha Howard also scored 22 points and the seventh-seeded New York Liberty beat the defending champion Chicago Sky 98-91 earlier on Wednesday night in the opening game of the WNBA playoffs.
New York scored the final 13 points of the fourth quarter as Chicago missed 10 of its last 11 shots. Ionescu made a 3-pointer and a jumper from the free-throw line during the run, and Marine Johannes highlighted the spurt with an over-the-shoulder pass to Howard.
Betnijah Laney added 17 points and Stefanie Dolson scored 13 points for New York, which set a franchise scoring record in the playoffs. Dolson, a centre, made 3 of 4 3-pointers to help the Liberty go 11 for 25 from distance.
Kahleah Copper led the second-seeded Sky with 21 points. Allie Quigley scored 18 points, Candace Parker had 17 points, 10 rebounds and five assists, and Courtney Vandersloot added 13 points and 10 assists.
Chicago took its first lead of the second half, 74-73, with a second left in the third quarter on Emma Meesseman's layup. Quigley sank a 3-pointer while being fouled and she made the free throw to give Chicago an 85-81 lead, and Parker added a putback on the Sky's next possession for a six-point lead with 6:36 left.