The player interviews in between quarters are a strange aspect of WNBA playoff broadcasts, and usually not worthwhile. But after the third quarter of the Las Vegas Aces' 97-83 Game 1 win over the Dallas Wings in Game 1 of their semifinal playoff series on Sunday, that trend changed.
Aces star A'ja Wilson, who was presented with the Defensive Player of the Year trophy prior to the game and finished with 34 points, eight rebounds and four blocks, came over to the camera and asked for a second to catch her breath. Visibly exhausted, Wilson then explained her state and the key to the Aces' success in the frame.
"Running," Wilson said. "That's why I'm out of breath now. Just running, making sure we keep them on their toes, cause they're gonna do the same to us. Just running, pushing the pace, and finding the open person."
While not the most memorable quote of all time, it was interesting to hear Wilson explain the Aces' strategy during the middle of the game and to see so clearly how much work it was taking to implement. After a competitive first half, the Aces literally ran away from the Wings, building up a double-digit lead that they would not relinquish.
During the regular season, the Aces and Wings were two of the fastest-paced teams in the league, and led the way in fastbreak scoring. The Aces' ability to win that battle, particularly in the third quarter, was a key factor in their victory. They outscored the Wings 17-10 in fastbreak points and were highly efficient when they decided to run, scoring 1.667 points per possession on those opportunities.
While the Wings excel at scoring in transition, they don't always defend those situations very well. There are times when they get too caught up in the officiating or their own frustration, but more often the problem is their big lineup gets beat down the floor by mobile centers and teams insistent on pushing the pace. That's exactly what happened in the third quarter when the Aces broke the game open.
Only one of the Aces' six transition possessions in the frame came off a turnover; they just decided that they were going to push the pace as often as possible, and the Wings could not keep up.
Nothing tells the story better than this example towards the end of the third. Arike Ogunbowale misses a shot in the lane, and when Jackie Young secures the rebound she is near her own baseline and all five Wings players are ahead of the ball. And yet, the Aces get a wide open layup because Wilson sprints the length of the floor, right past multiple defenders, and ends up all alone under the basket.
If you want another example, take a look at this sequence in the final minute of the frame. Here, Wilson deflects a pass, which gets the Aces out and running. But there's still three Wings defenders back ahead of the ball, and none of them pick her up. Meanwhile, Kalani Brown barely even makes it back into the frame by the time Wilson lays it up and in.
The Aces are a better team than the Wings and are going to win this series, but moments like those show that talent isn't the only reason why.