PHOENIX — When center Brittney Griner hit a baby hook just 36 seconds into the third quarter to pull the Phoenix Mercury within three points of the Las Vegas Aces in Wednesday’s Game 4 of the 2021 WNBA semifinals, it looked like the Aces were going to be in for a fight to stave off elimination.
Then Liz Cambage hit a jumper and Chelsea Gray scored five straight points to spark a 24-0 run that buried the Mercury on their home court. The 93-76 victory saved the Aces’ season, sent the series back to Sin City and forced a deciding Game 5 on Friday (9 p.m. ET, ESPN2/ESPN App) with a spot in the WNBA Finals on the line.
It took just 6 minutes, 39 seconds for the Aces to put a damper on the electric atmosphere inside the Footprint Center in Phoenix. It happened so fast, so efficiently that even Las Vegas coach Bill Laimbeer didn’t realize his team had scored 24 unanswered points — the longest scoring run by a team facing elimination in WNBA history, per the Elias Sports Bureau.
“That’s what it was? A 24-0 run?” Laimbeer said after the game. “Wow.”
Mercury guard Diana Taurasi couldn’t believe it, either.
“What was it?” she asked. “I didn’t even know it was happening. The things that we did in the previous two games we just did not lock in and do.”
Laimbeer could sense during the run that it was taking a toll on the Mercury.
“They missed some shots. We pushed the ball to get easy baskets, we got some steals for layups, and they kind of put their head down a little bit at that point,” said Laimbeer, whose Aces had lost two straight in the series after a Game 1 win. “It happens over the course of the game. They did it to us. It ebbs and flows. It is a matter of how do you stop the runs, and tonight we were able to keep the run going.”
The Mercury couldn’t stop it. They couldn’t even contain it.
Before Phoenix knew it, it were down 27 with more than a quarter left.
“In some times like that, they’re making shots, you get disheartened, but we got to fight a little bit more,” Mercury coach Sandy Brondello said. “That’s what we missed out there, and then we’re taking some bad shots down the other end or getting turnovers … It’s a tough night at the office for us and we didn’t play as well as we should have.”
Plum said the Aces did exactly what they needed to against an offense that, if it found its way Wednesday — Phoenix shot 41.3 percent — could quickly go on a run of its own.
“I think for us it was just like, your foot’s on the gas, it’s gonna stay on the gas,” Plum said. “They’re too good of a team to, if we stop and let them back in, and so I just felt like it was really cool to see us continue to have our foot on the gas.”
And now the Aces are one win away from advancing to the WNBA Finals for the second consecutive season.
But they wouldn’t be in this spot if it wasn’t for some tough love from Laimbeer. After the Aces got smoked by 27 points in Game 3, Laimbeer took control of Monday’s film session from the assistants and didn’t hold back.
“I ran the film,” he said. “I stopped everything, said, ‘What the hell are you doing? And what is that? And what is that? And why are we walking?’
“Everything about that film session was somber.”
Laimbeer called out Gray and told the guard that she wasn’t being aggressive enough. She responded Wednesday with a game-high 22 points, hitting 4 of 7 3-pointers. She also had six assists, including three during the Aces’ pivotal run.
After the film session, Laimbeer could see his players’ heads hanging.
Watching the film was “humbling,” Plum said.
“You never want to lose based on energy,” she added. “As a pro, it’s embarrassing. We had the energy tonight.”
“They realized that they weren’t putting forth the effort. It was very clear on the film,” he said. “Tonight they came to make amends and then we got the job done.”