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For most of this season, A’ja Wilson and Breanna Stewart have been the MVP frontrunners, and so when the Aces and Storm got matched up in the WNBA Playoff semifinals, all eyes were going to be on the two best players in the league going toe-to-toe.

Stewart won the battle in Game 1, as Wilson was stymied by the Storm’s length in what became a Seattle road win. In Game 2, Wilson and the Aces were determined not to let that happen again, coming out with a different strategy and approach that allowed all of us to enjoy one of the all-time great duels in W playoff history, as Wilson’s Aces outlasted Stewart’s Storm to even the series at 1-1.

The two teams went back-and-forth in the early going, as Wilson was assertive in the early going and the Aces were sure to feed her to avoid a similarly quiet night to Game 1.

However, after taking a 16-13 lead, the Aces would go cold and Stewart would lead the Storm on a run that pushed them ahead by seven going into the second quarter, as she scored eight in the opening quarter, with no one on the Aces able to stop her from getting whatever shot she wanted — and when all eyes were on her, she’d dish a quick dime as well.

The second quarter was much of the same as Wilson and Stewart dueled. A’ja dominated inside as the Aces went to a small-ball look to clear out space for her and force the Storm to send help with smaller defenders, allowing Wilson to simply rise up over them to finish.

On the other side it was still all Stewart, who finished with 16 points at the half, carrying the load for the Storm in a huge way while the Aces chipped away to tie the game at 36-36 going to halftime.

The biggest difference in this game was that the Aces were the ones with a second star on the offensive end, as Chelsea Gray put up 19 points, seven assists, and seven rebounds to provide a much needed lift alongside Wilson, as she has been the most consistently great player for Vegas across two games.

The Storm got a 17-point, 9-rebound night from Tina Charles to aid Stewart, but after a big Game 1, Jewell Loyd went quiet and Sue Bird was a non-factor scoring for much of the game, meaning the entire scoring burden fell on the frontcourt which couldn’t quite keep up with a resurgent Aces offense.

The biggest swing of the game came at the end of the third quarter, after the Aces finally broke through in the third to take their first lead since 16-13. Holding a three-point advantage with just over 10 seconds to play, Wilson buried a three to beat the shot clock buzzer, with Kelsey Plum sneaking in for a steal on the ensuing inbound which she turned into a layup that pushed Vegas in front by eight going to the fourth.

The Aces would push that lead to double digits and briefly threatened to run away, as Plum finally got going on her way to 18 points (6-of-15 shooting).

The Storm would again pull things back to create a tense finish, with Stewart once again firmly in the middle of the action and Bird finally coming alive in a key moment.

Still, the Aces stars seemingly had an answer every time the Storm got within a possession. First, it was Gray hitting a ridiculously tough bucket to push Vegas in front by six with a minute to play.

Then, after Bird hit another tough midrange jumper to cut the lead to two, it was Wilson who hit some clutch free throws to keep the lead at four with 17.7 to play.

After that, the Storm struggled to create a good look on their ensuing possession, with Loyd throwing up a contested airball on the move after the Aces snuffed out Seattle’s action, leaving the outcome of the game in little doubt as Jackie Young put the game on ice, splitting her free throws to make it a 78-73 Vegas win.

Stewart finished the game with 32 points, seven rebounds, and three blocks in another incredible performance, but unlike Game 1, no one else on the Storm was able to step up quite enough in the second half to help her out. Loyd and Bird combined to go 4-of-13 for 14 points and everyone else other than Stewart was a dreadful 3-of-15 from three-point range.

For the Aces, they seemed to find their stride on offense for the first time all series in the second half. Wilson led the way with her 33 points (12-of-18 shooting), 13 rebounds, and three blocks, posting a new playoff career-high in the process and showing her ability to dominate. Becky Hammon’s decision to go small-ball allowed Wilson to go off (and Stewart, too), but the activity of the small group stymied the Storm guards on offense and created more flow for the Aces. Gray and Plum being able to combine for 37 points to help Wilson was the difference in the MVP duel on this night, and going forward it feels like a series where the secondary stars will make all the difference if Stewart and Wilson are going to cancel each other out with sensational performances like this going forward.

Source: https://uproxx.com/dimemag/aces-storm-game-2-video-highlights-stewart-wilson-gray/

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