Tuesday, September 27, 2022

2022 WNBA playoffs: Chelsea Gray helps Aces pull away from Mercury to avoid upset and win Game 1

The Las Vegas Aces got more of a test than they were expecting from the Phoenix Mercury in Game 1 of their first-round series on Wednesday night, but they ultimately pulled away in the fourth quarter for a 79-63 win. 

Neither team could get anything going on the offensive end for much of the game and the shorthanded Mercury were able to hang around in such a low-scoring game. Neither team broke double figures in the third quarter and the Aces led by just two early in the fourth. 

The Aces’ high-powered offense finally woke up down the stretch, however, and they outscored the Mercury 26-12 over the final 7:15. Kelsey Plum was the leading scorer with 22 points, and added five rebounds and four assists, while Chelsea Gray, who led the fourth-quarter surge, finished with 17 points, four rebounds and four assists. 

Diamond DeShields had 18 points and eight rebounds in defeat, while Sophie Cunningham and Megan Gustafson each had 12 points. 

Here are some key takeaways from the game:

Gray leads fourth-quarter surge

In the final game of the regular season, Chelsea Gray went off for a career-high 33 points, seven rebounds and nine assists to lead the Aces to a comeback win over the Seattle Storm. Thanks to Gray’s heroics, the Aces clinched the No. 1 seed in the playoffs, and homecourt advantage throughout. 

It turned out there was more where that came from. While Gray didn’t put up spectacular numbers in Game 1, she once again came up clutch when it mattered. With the Aces clinging to a four-point lead early in the fourth, Gray took over the game. 

First, she drove inside and drew a foul on Megan Gustafson that was later upgraded to a flagrant 1. Gray got in Gustafson’s face in the aftermath, and the incident — somewhat contrived as it may have been — lit a fire in Gray and the Aces crowd. 

Following a review, Gray hit both free throws, and because it was a flagrant foul the Aces retained the ball. On the ensuing play, Gray drained a 3-pointer. The next time the Aces had the ball she hit a step-back jumper, and then added another one a few possessions later. 

With nine points in a three minute span, Gray pushed the Aces’ lead up to double digits and made sure there would not be another upset on the opening day of the WNBA playoffs. Gray finished with 17 points, four rebounds and four assists on 6 of 9 from the field in one of her classic all-around performances. 

Peddy’s injury another blow for Mercury

Late in the third quarter, Mercury guard Shey Peddy collapsed to the ground in severe pain on a non-contact play. Replays showed her right leg give way as she planted to make a cut, and she had to be carried off the floor by Reshanda Grey while other teammates were near tears. 

The Mercury announced that Peddy was out for the remainder of the game with a lower leg injury, and there have not been any further details released. Mercury head coach Vanessa Nygaard said Peddy needs “further evaluation.” It certainly appeared, however, that from the mechinism of injury, the way Peddy immediately grabbed for her Achilles and her inability to put any weight on her leg that she may have suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon. 

Regardless, this was another major blow for a Mercury team that has been through so much this season. In February, Brittney Griner was arrested in Russia on drug charges and was later sentenced to nine years in prison; Tina Charles abrupbtly left the team in the middle of the season; Diana Taurasi suffered a season-ending quad injury; Skylar Diggins-Smith has been away from the team due to personal reasons. You could tell how much it hurt the Mercury to see another one of their teammates go down. 

From a strictly on-court perspective, Peddy had been playing some stellar basketball over the last few weeks as she helped pick up the slack. For the season, her 9.9 points, 3.8 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game were all career-highs. Losing her will make their chances of pulling off an upset even lower. 

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