The Aces came into Wednesday night’s Game 1 against the 8-seeded Mercury as heavy favorites, but like the Sky in the opening game of the night, Vegas found itself in a dogfight for much of the game against a shorthanded Phoenix team.
The Mercury, despite being down their leading scorers in Diana Taurasi and Skylar Diggins-Smith — not to mention the season-long absence of Brittney Griner and the in-season departure of Tina Charles — came out swinging, with Diamond DeShields and Sophie Cunningham getting things started with an early flurry from deep.
After seeing Phoenix take a quick lead, the Aces would slowly settle in, eventually taking control of the game in the second quarter as they pushed their lead to double digits and, seemingly, established the expected order thanks to some filthy buckets from Jackie Young.
However, the Mercury had answers time and again, with Shey Peddy providing a pair of clutch threes in the late second quarter to keep them attached at the half, trailing by only five.
Every time the Aces pushed the lead out, like with this Kelsey Plum three early in the third, the Mercury had a rebuttal for the better part of the night.
DeShields led the way for Phoenix with 18 points, attacking downhill as Phoenix somewhat surprisingly was the team able to establish itself in the paint early and often.
However, after a ragged third quarter that saw neither team break double digits — which included Peddy going down with what appeared to be a serious injury — Las Vegas found its extra gear thanks to Chelsea Gray. A flagrant foul by Megan Gustafson fired Gray up, as she would go on a quick 7-0 run by herself, hitting a pair of free throws, then a three, followed by a pullup two as she took over late.
Gray would finish with 17 points, four rebounds, and four assists, joining leading scorer Kelsey Plum (22 points) and Jackie Young (16 points) in double figures on the night.
MVP frontrunner A’ja Wilson struggled mightily with her offense in the opener, going just 2-of-11 from the field for eight points (she did add 12 rebounds and three blocks), but the Aces managing to run away with a 16-point win in spite of that is a testament to their depth and how they can adjust to the flow of the game. The Mercury fought valiantly, but it’s hard to see how they can keep up for 40 minutes with the Aces as they’re now one game away from the offseason and some deserved rest.