Wilson lulls Dream to sleep in record performance for Aces

Aug 23, 2023 | Holyland Hoops

The Sports Rabbi’s Ben Pask was in Atlanta to see the Dream and the Las Vegas Aces as Israeli Alysha Clark took to the floor, however, little did he know that A’ja Wilson would match the WNBA scoring record for an individual game.

The Las Vegas Aces (29-4, 1st in the standings) started their current road trip in the right way with a 112-100 win over the Atlanta Dream (16-17, 5th in the standings) on Tuesday night. While the victory was the priority for the Aces leading up to the playoffs, the story of the night was their franchise player, A’ja Wilson, scoring 53 points, equal with a record set by Liz Cambage five years as the most points scored in a WNBA game.

The Aces got out to a strong start, leading by 10 points after four and a half minutes, helped by a strong start from Wilson, who scored 16 points in the first quarter alone. However, the Dream fought back, with Rhyne Howard scoring 12 points and Danielle Robinson 8 points in the quarter, for the Dream to take a 34-33 lead after 10 minutes.

Nothing could separate the teams in the second quarter, as they continued to exchange buckets. Wilson and Howard continued to score strongly for their teams, adding 6 points and 9 points respectively in the quarter, with the Aces holding a slender 56-55 lead at the main break.

It’s often the third quarter which separates the contenders from the pretenders. While the Dream is currently sitting in a playoff spot, they started to look sluggish after the half-time break. This was the opportunity for the Aces to show again why they sit on top of the standings and were the first team to secure a ticket to the post-season. They made the most of their opportunities, stretching their lead out to 14 points, going into final quarter up 82-68. Wilson was again unstoppable, adding another 13 points for a total of 35 points.

A’ja Wilson – Photo Credit: Derek White/NBA Photos

While the Aces extended their lead to as many as 22 points in the final quarter, the Dream fought back to win the quarter 32-30. However, they were unable to stop Wilson, who brought up her 52nd and 53rd points for the evening in the last minute of the game with two free throws as a result of Dream coach Tanisha Wright’s technical foul.

Kelsey Plum (20 points, 2 rebounds, 7 assists and 2 steals), Chelsea Gray (16 points, 9 rebounds and 12 assists) and Jackie Young (12 points, 3 rebounds, 4 assists and 1 steal) all joined Wilson in double-figures for the Aces. The Dream’s top scores in the loss were Howard (27 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists and 2 steals), Haley Jones (23 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists and 2 steals), Robinson (17 points, 2 rebounds, 5 assists and 1 steal) and Aari McDonald (11 points, 3 rebounds, 1 assist and 1 steal).

A’ja Wilson – Photo Credit: Derek White/NBA Photos

But the undisputed star of the game was Wilson, whose 53 points came from 16/23 shooting from the field and 20/21 from the free throw line, while she also added 7 rebounds and 4 blocks for the night.

“I didn’t feel it and I’m still waiting on that feeling, there was no out of body experience,” Wilson said of her performance post-game. “I’m out there having fun. I get the opportunity to play with some amazing women. I get to come into work every day to play basketball. I don’t take these moments for granted, but it wasn’t a feeling like, ‘Oh my G-d,’ it was kind of just in the flow and that’s why I appreciate them the most.”

“She was rolling, we got her rolling early and obviously she’s just a handful,” Aces coach, Becky Hammon – who last week was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame – said of Wilson’s game. “You kind of have to foul her when she’s rolling like that, there’s no way to get her under control. But I thought she was really good on the defensive end too, rim protection, she had four blocks tonight, she was everywhere. We are better when we can play out of our defense.”

Alysha Clark – Photo Credit: Derek White/NBA Photos

“A’ja is special,” American-Israeli Aces forward, Alysha Clark (3 points and 4 rebounds), said of Wilson’s game. “She’s such an unselfish player and so to be able to tie the record and do it in a way that’s efficient, she didn’t force anything, nothing was hard. She flowed and that’s just the kind of player she is. She’s a great player and she’s going to go down as one of the greats in this game. So I was excited to see her go to work today. It’s always a fun thing to do when you get to witness greatness and that’s what happened today.”

“I feel like we’re watching generational talent,” Plum said of Wilson’s performance. “I think that we’ve got to stop comparing people and just let them be great. What we’re seeing right now is historic, a historic run and it’s just the beginning. This is one of the greatest players of all time and she’s only just starting to play.”

The significance of her performance also gave others the opportunity to reflect on what makes Wilson such a special player.

Becky Hammon – Photo Credit: Derek White/NBA Photos

“I don’t know what kind of creature she is, but I can tell you that she runs like a deer, jumps like a cat and catches like she is spiderman,” Hammon said. “I don’t know exactly what that is, but she is just special. Her real gift is her humility and grace and how she handles herself and her teammates all the time. She’s a phenomenal superstar.

“I can’t even tell you – she’s about winning and lifting her teammates up and her teammates adore her for it. You can’t help but love the person she is. As special as she is on the court, who she is and how she goes about her work is like out of this work. Like I said, it’s just so supremely special.”

“It’s hard to pick one,” Plum said when asked to name the most underappreciated part of Wilson’s game. “I’d say she plays both sides of the ball, which I feel is very rare for a superstar – she always takes the toughest matchup. That and honestly, just her humility. The bigger the stage, and the more awards and accolades, she remains humble.

Kelsey Plum – Photo Credit: Derek White/NBA Photos

“I think that’s just a very rare trait to have. It’s very easy to get arrogant and kind of have your head blown up. But she’s just so consistent with who she is as a human being and you know what you’re going to get on and off the court. I feel like we have a great culture because it starts with the franchise player and great leadership.”

The Aces now travel to Chicago where they will face the Sky (13-20) on Thursday night, while the Dream will hope that they can get back to .500 when they host the Los Angeles Sparks (13-18) on Friday night.

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