"We need a three!"
As head coach Becky Hammon calls out instructions for her
players during a timeout, the desire for a three-pointer is
repeated. The Las Vegas Aces, who have controlled things for most
of the afternoon, find themselves down 89-85 with 11.3 seconds left
in the game.
It would be easy to get lost in the "how" of the current
situation. How a 15-point lead through the second quarter was
suddenly a deficit in third. How Breanna Stewart, cold for most of
the game, had hit three bleep-you shots in the past minute in a
half to give the Seattle Storm a late-game edge.
There was no time for those thoughts though. The Aces needed a
three, which means they needed to rely on Kelsey Plum.
Well, sort of.
You'd think the play was being called for Plum. She's one of the
best shooters in the world, fresh off a season where she led the
WNBA in three-pointers made (3.1 on average, 113 total) and doubled
as one of five players to convert at least 40% of their threes
while taking 5 or more attempts per game.
Hammon had different plans.
Instead of using her shooting ability, Hammon leveraged Plum's
gravity and toughness to help pry open Riquna Williams — an
unabashed gunner off the bench who'd made several big shots in the
"You're screening for A'ja [Wilson]," Hammon tells Plum before
the players break the huddle.
"Jackie [Young] is ripping through. KP screens [for] A'ja; A'ja,
come around and screen for Bay (Riquna Williams)."
Sure enough, the Aces execute the play perfectly.
Young cuts through the middle of the floor and relocates to the
right corner. Plum sets a solid screen on Ezi Magbegor. Stephanie
Talbot, Plum's defender, is caught in a bind. She doesn't want to
switch onto Wilson for obvious size and skill reasons, leaving a
gap. Thanks to the Wilson screen on Sue Bird, Williams is able to
run into that gap and fire up an uncontested three-pointer.
From that point on, madness ensued.
Tina Charles missed a pair of free throws. Wilson gave the Aces
a lead with a tough drive, though it's hard to look past the missed
travel call. Bird nearly rendered the discussion moot by draining a
go-ahead three with 0.8 seconds remaining. The Aces countered by
drawing up a play for Young, who converted a layup over the
outstretched — well, the not-stretched — arms of Magbegor
to send the game into overtime.
The Aces would outscore the Storm by 12 in the overtime period
to snag a 2-1 series lead.
If I can re-center the conversation on Plum, it's worth putting
more spotlight on her. She's fallen by the wayside in a sense,
though it's somewhat understandable due to the historic
performances that Wilson and Gray are in the midst of.
Plum hasn't been at her regular season level; her per-game and
efficiency numbers are slightly down. It's important to note that
it hasn't shifted the way she's been defended. She's carefully
watched off the ball, and occasionally trapped when she has it.
Despite her shot not falling at an elite clip right now, she's
remained impactful because of her gravity. And as the play above
showed, she hasn't been afraid to get her hands dirty when
The fun part? The rugged screening we saw from Plum in this game
isn't a new development. It's been an under-the-radar staple of the
Aces' half-court offense. I don't think it's hyperbole to call Plum
one of The W's best screeners, regardless of position.
It would appear that Plum agrees.
"I feel like you see me," Plum told Basketball News with a laugh
when asked about her screening after practice on Saturday.
When asked if there was a coach that pushed her to grow as a
screener, she pinpointed former Aces head coach — and Detroit
Pistons Bad Boy — Bill Laimbeer as an influence.
"Honestly, I learned that from Bill," Plum said. "We did a lot
of block-to-block screens, so I was setting more Flex screens.
Becky has me setting more back screens and cross
We'll take a brief pause here to showcase some examples. Plum
has done a tremendous job of prying her teammates open, from a
variety of angles.
Plum doesn't go half-speed when she's asked to screen someone
open. She relishes the contact, and manages to toe that line
without committing fouls that often.
"I definitely try to stick 'em," Plum says.
"I know, especially with Seattle, they're gonna stay on me. If I
can give A'ja just a second, I really try to [make contact]. My
family played football, so I feel like I have a little of that in
Plum likened herself to a linebacker trying to thump a ball
carrier; I may lean more towards a fullback with the duality of
lead blocking or slipping out and becoming a threat herself.
The Aces now find themselves in the red zone, if we want to
carry the cross-sport comparison forward. With a 2-1 lead heading
into Tuesday night's Game 4, they now have a pair of shots to punch
their ticket to the WNBA Finals.
Following their overtime thriller, the momentum is certainly on
the Aces' side right now.