Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2018 | 11 p.m.
Entering the fourth quarter of Wednesday night's game at the Mandalay Bay Events Center, Las Vegas Aces’ all-star guard Kayla McBride hadn’t made a shot.
She had already been subbed out of the game after going 0-for-5 from the field, when coach Bill Laimbeer walked up to her and asked, “Are you going to play tonight?”
McBride responded with 15 fourth-quarter points, including two big buckets down the stretch to seal the Aces’ 85-72 win over the New York Liberty to pull into a tie with the Dallas Wings for the final WNBA playoff spot.
The win sets up an elimination game Friday in Dallas. The Aces (14-18) take on the Wings (14-18) and a loss would knock them out of playoff contention.
“I just wanted to put the game away for us,” McBride said. “I knew it was a big game going into Friday’s game in Dallas. We needed a win.”
With just over a minute remaining, McBride drained a 3-pointer seconds before the shot clock expired to extend Las Vegas’ lead to 81-70. On the following possession, she drove the lane and banked in a floater to ice the game.
“She wasn’t engaged for three quarters,” Laimbeer said. “She wasn’t needed and sometimes you get lost and out of rhythm. Once she got focused and got her rhythm, she made all the big shots down the stretch.”
Las Vegas burst out of the gates, leading by as many as 24 in the first quarter behind an offensive outburst by rookie A’ja Wilson.
Wilson knocked down 5-of-6 shots and single-handedly outscored the Liberty 12-10 in the first quarter.
“We knew we had to come out with a lot of energy and show that we deserve to be in the playoffs,” Wilson said. “We needed a win by any means necessary. This is playoff time and we need to go out there and give it our all and leave it all on the floor. It’s go big or go home, and we aren’t trying to go home.”
After trailing 31-10 at the end of the first quarter, New York cut Las Vegas’ lead to only 13 at halftime. Kia Nurse scored nine of her 14 points in the second half to help shrink the lead to as little as eight points, but in the end the Aces held on.
“They played hard throughout the game,” Laimbeer said. “They could have easily given up in that first half but they didn’t. They competed and I had to play people more than I wanted to, but at the same time we needed a win. There were no ifs, ands, buts or maybes about it.”
All five Aces starters finished in double figures, including Tamera Young, who was two rebounds away from a double-double with 11 points and eight boards. Carolyn Swords was an efficient 5-of-6 from the floor for 10 points and led the team with a plus-18 rating while on the court.
Only two games remain in the regular season for the Aces. An elimination game Friday night in Dallas, and a home game against the Atlanta Dream, which tips at 3 p.m. Sunday at Mandalay Bay.
The Aces control their destiny and will clinch the final playoff spot with wins in both. The single-elimination scenario reminds Wilson of her college days, when she helped lead South Carolina to a 2017 national championship.
“It does feel like March,” she said with a smile. “It’s a different gear as a player when you know something is on the line. You want to get a seed, you want to play in March Madness and it’s the same thing here — we want to be in the playoffs.”