As expected, the defending champion Las Vegas Aces made easy work of the No. 8 seed Chicago Sky in their first-round playoff series. After a 28-point win in Game 1, the Aces completed the sweep with a 92-70 victory in Game 2 on Sunday. A'ja Wilson led the way in the series decider with a playoff career-high and franchise playoff record 38 points. She added 16 rebounds, three steals and four blocks to complete a stunning all-around performance.
The Aces have now advanced to the semifinals for the fifth consecutive season, and have moved one step closer to becoming the first team since the Los Angeles Sparks in 2001 and 2002 to repeat as champions. They will now await the winner of the Dallas Wings versus the Atlanta Dream. Regardless of who wins that series, and when, the semifinals will not begin until Sept. 24, giving the Aces a full week off.
(1) Las Vegas Aces def. (8) Chicago Sky, 2-0
Game 1: Aces 87, Sky 59 (Aces lead 1-0)
Players to watch
Aces: Chelsea Gray
A'ja Wilson is the Aces' best player, but Gray is the player to watch in this series, and throughout the playoffs. She was unstoppable in the playoffs last season en route to the Aces' title, averaging 21.7 points, seven assists and 3.8 rebounds on other-worldly 61.1/54.4/83.3 shooting splits. Can she once again elevate her game in the postseason? If so, the Aces will be extremely difficult to beat.
Sky: Kahleah Copper
The Sky go as Copper goes. In the regular season they were 10-7 when she scored at least 20 points and 7-16 when she did not. If they want any hope of pulling off an all-time upset, they're going to need their best player to deliver in a serious way. The 2021 Finals MVP, Copper has a proven history of stepping up in the playoffs, but this will be her toughest task yet.
Three keys to the series
The 3-point battle
Outside shooting is a key component of every playoff series, but especially mini three-game sets. All it takes is one outlier game for the underdog to force a deciding Game 3. With these two teams, it's even more important considering the frequency and accuracy of their outside attack.
The Aces finished second in the league in both 3-point attempts per game (24.9) and 3-point percentage (37.2), but the Sky weren't far behind, checking in at fifth in attempts (22.2) and tied for second in percentage (37.2). Chicago scored 30.3% of their points from 3-point land, while the Aces scored 30.0% of their points from beyond the arc. Of the top-25 3-point shooters by percentage this season, eight will be playing in this series: Jackie Young, Courtney Williams, Chelsea Gray, Kahleah Copper, Marina Mabrey, Kelsey Plum, Alysha Clark and Robyn Parks.
While the Aces have plenty of clear advantages in this series, 3-point shooting is not one of them. The Sky catching fire and the Aces going cold is likely the only way this series is competitive.
Aces should dominate in the paint
The Aces have A'ja Wilson, so it's little surprise they were one of the best in the league at scoring around the basket. Their 38.4 points in the paint per game were good for third in the league, they shot 66.8% within five feet, which led the league, and they took 19.5 free throws per game, which ranked fourth.
They simply roll through most teams, and the Sky are unlikely to put up much resistance, even with Elizabeth Williams patrolling the paint. No team allowed more shots within five feet this season than the Sky, who allowed 27 such attempts per game, with opponents making 60.1% of them. When it comes to opponent points in the paint, the Sky were also dead last, giving up 40.1 per game.
It doesn't take an expert to realize that's a bad combination for the Sky.
Can the Sky take care of the ball?
Any team looking to pull off an upset in the playoffs cannot beat itself. The Sky are already at a major disadvantage in the talent department, and the worst defensive team in the playoffs. They must limit their turnovers or this series is going to be a quick sweep.
But taking care of the ball against the best defense in the league is much easier said than done, especially for a team like the Sky, who have had trouble doing so all season long. No playoff team turned it over more than the Sky this season, who had a 17.8 turnover percentage.
Despite having the best defense in the league, the Aces are fairly average at forcing turnovers, finishing tied for sixth at 13.9 per game. They make you pay when you do cough it up, however, scoring 17.1 points off turnovers per game, which ranked third in the league. If they get extra opportunities to score, they are going to take advantage against this porours Sky defense.
No real need for any in-depth explanation here. The Aces are the far superior team in this matchup and went 19-1 at home this season, while the Sky won 18 games in total. They should cruise to a comfortable two-game sweep. Pick: Aces in 2