It’s June 8, 2023, and CT Sun star Dewanna Bonner is in her bag. Like, really in her 41-piece, double combo fries on the side type of bag. Cut into the paint for an easy two? Go right ahead. Beat everyone down the floor? You’re allowed. Las Vegas Aces head coach Becky Hammon was furious, and she let her team know about it postgame. That appeared to serve as a wake up call for the Aces.
Challenges were few and far between before a trip to Connecticut early in the campaign. It was exactly what the ball club needed in order to realize what it was going to take in order to return to where it was last year.
The entire team, ignited by Hammon’s statement following that game made it a mission to take that next step defensively. From June 11 on, nobody has been better.
That theme of a relentless resistance has been paramount to this postseason run so far. While scoring over 90 in three of their last five games, the Aces have not allowed an opponent to net more than 85 points since August 28 at the New York.
With a berth to the Finals on the line, the Aces dug in. The ball pressure was tremendous. With help rotating over led by A’ja Wilson, Las Vegas held one of the W’s most elite scorers, Arike Ogunbowale to just 25 percent shooting in the final 10 minutes.
Up by one with under 1:30 remaining, the defending champions pieced together multiple special defensive possessions. All five players were communicating, and working in unison. It was Hammon’s dream. The Wings did not make a single field goal in the final 4:58 seconds of the contest. The Vegas coach could not help her excitement. Her smile postgame was of a proud coach that saw her team accept the challenge and dominate.
Hammon kept it real after grinding out the close out game on the road. “It just shows you that we can win with our defense. It’s not always going to be a pretty one. These are the ones you actually have to find ways to win.”
She continued, “When the ball’s popping and we’re scoring 90 and 100 points, those are easy ones for us. When we have to win like this and really prove to ourselves that we can win like this, that it’s not about the offense all the time, it’s about rebounding and defense, which we did very well down the stretch.”
If Vegas can continue this kind of defensive efficiency, it will become the second team since 2015 to own a playoff defensive rating under 90. The versatility on this end of the floor starts and ends with back to back WNBA Defensive Player of the Year, Wilson. The former South Carolina star was the only player in the W to average two or more blocks per 40 minutes.
You can see it live in action, her emotions on the floor explain to the world truly how much defense means to her. She is on you defensively like your mother with a camera on a family vacation.
It does not stop at No. 22.
Remember the 2020 Seattle Storm championship team? Current member of the Aces, Alysha Clark was a key piece to that side’s success, especially defensively. Bringing in the 2020 All-Defensive First Team forward was an early sign Hammon wanted to focus on defense. It has more than paid dividends. Clark has done everything Vegas has asked of her coming off the bench.
Guess who was the main defender on Satou Sabally in the final 10 seconds of Game 3? It was the Middle Tennessee product.
Don’t sleep on Kiah Stokes either. The 2023 WNBA Sixth Player of the Year tied her career high in steals, and recorded more than 0.9 blocks per game for the first time in three years. Stokes and Clark were the only two Aces’ players with a defensive rating under 96 in more than 20 games played in 2023.
It is all accompanied by Chelsea Gray, Kelsey Plum, and Jackie Young. The three perimeter players cause constant havoc. Both Young and Plum increased their steals total from 2022 while the “Point GAWDDD” matched last season’s total.
It is the true definition of a complete team. Hammon’s team managed to do that for the most part against Dallas, but the challenge becomes even tougher with the Liberty on tap.
This year’s WNBA Finals and going to be a match up for the ages. We’re hyped, you ready?
Action photo via Getty Images. Portraits by Atiba Jefferson.