The teams played last week before the All-Star break and combined for the highest-scoring regulation game in WNBA history, with New York winning 116-107. This game nearly matched it.
Plum, the MVP of the All-Star Game, and Las Vegas (16-7) jumped all over New York and led by 14 after one and 52-28 at the half. The Aces looked to be cruising in the third quarter before Sami Whitcomb got hot for New York (9-14). She hit five 3-pointers in the period to get the Liberty within 71-63 heading into the fourth quarter.
“Our defense dictated our offense in the second half,” Sabrina Ionescu said.
Las Vegas seemed to be in control behind Plum and Wilson before New York crept within six on Natasha Howard’s three-point play with 1:26 left that made it 95-89. That came right after Plum missed the only free throw of the night for the Aces.
Young then worked the shot clock down before hitting a pull-up jumper from the elbow to give the Aces some breathing room.
It nearly wasn’t enough as Ionescu got going. She hit three 3-pointers and converted a three-point play in the final 49 seconds, but Las Vegas made all 10 of its free throws, including the ones by Young.
Despite the win, Plum wasn’t happy with the Aces’ defensive effort in the second half, when they let up after a solid first half.
“We had a big lead and then took our foot of the gas,” Plum said. “They scored 70 points in the second half and that’s embarrassing.”
Ionescu finished with 27 points — 21 in the fourth quarter — and Howard added 20 for New York, which was 15 for 31 from behind the arc.
The game marked the first appearance of Hammon in New York as coach of the Aces. Hammon spent the first eight years of her playing career in New York with the Liberty and is in the team’s Ring of Honor. She received a warm ovation from the crowd when she was introduced pregame.
Hammon, who is fourth on New York’s career scoring list, said before the game that she was close to taking the vacant Liberty coaching position this offseason, choosing instead to take the job in Las Vegas.
“I had multiple conversations with the Tsais,” Hammon said, referring to the Liberty’s owners. “They are hard people to say no to.”
Hammon became the league’s first million dollar coach when she accepted the Aces’ offer.
The teams will meet again on Thursday in a matinee game.