As expected, Game Two of the semifinal round series between the Aces and the Storm went down the wire. It was no surprise, since contests between the top two teams in the Western Conference throughout the season typically proved close. And, in this measure, it was, perhaps, fitting that the final score of yesterday’s set-to very nearly mimicked the 76-73 outcome in their first playoff encounter. The difference was in who prevailed. This time around, the hosts managed to protect home court on the strength of a much better performance from Most Valuable Player candidate A’ja Wilson.
Certainly, the Aces needed all and sundry to step up. The 9,755 warm bodies who filled the Michelob ULTRA Arena understood the importance of a win for them. Another setback would have compelled them to sweep the remaining outings — as Sisyphean an endeavor as any given the championship pedigree of the Storm. And, creditably, Wilson stepped up and met expectations this time around. That she was actually able to outperform counterpart Breanna Stewart is no mean feat, especially in the face of their must-prevail situation.
Make no mistake. The Storm tried to keep pace, with Stewart again leading the way. However, they were arguably outclassed in the crunch, if for no other reason than because the Aces had more stars showing up with the encounter on the line. Game One heroine Jewell Loyd could not weave the same magic on offense even as the absence of defensive ace Gabby Williams showed at the other end of the court. The hope is that the latter will be available in Game Three, thereby allowing the green and white to revert to familiar substitution patterns.
As with any other best-of-five affair, the capacity of the protagonists to make adjustments will be key moving forward. For the Aces, this means coming up with twists to a supposedly free-flowing attack that has so far been stunted. For the Storm, this entails trying to counteract the measures in order to get ahead anew. In other words, fans should look forward to yet another humdinger on Sunday.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and Human Resources management, corporate communications, and business development.