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Notes From a Courtside Seat at a Las Vegas Aces Game

Watching on TV is no match for being close to the action, as our correspondent discovered while rooting for his team against the Connecticut Sun

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Perhaps the best way to start this is with an admission, and that admission is this: This article, which is about watching the Las Vegas Aces play the Connecticut Sun on Saturday night in Las Vegas, is less of a technical game recap or a traditional newspaper-style game recap and more of a spiritual game recap or a visceral-style game recap, assuming that either of those are even a thing. And so, I suppose, let me at least begin by running through 11 things from the evening that are objectively true:

(1) The Las Vegas Aces played the Connecticut Sun on Saturday night in Las Vegas. (2) The Aces play their games at the Mandalay Bay Events Center. (3) The Mandalay Bay currently has a Michael Jackson–themed show that you can attend, and I know that doesn’t have anything to do with basketball, but you have to walk past it to get to the arena and it just seems like something that you should know about. (4) A’ja Wilson, the best player on the Aces and this season’s eventual Rookie of the Year, scored 34 points and had 14 rebounds. (5) Kayla McBride, the second-best player on the Aces and a potential All-Star, put up 27 points, six rebounds, and four assists. (6) Two days before the game, I looked up the cost of official Nike jerseys for the Aces. They were $140. When I got to Las Vegas on Friday, I played low-stakes No Limit Hold ’Em for a bit and got very lucky and won $150 ($125 the first session, $25 the second session). I flew back home Sunday night with an A’ja Wilson jersey and a $10 bill. (7) Prior to the game, the Connecticut Sun had a record of 10-8 and the Aces, suddenly eyeing a potential eighth-seed playoff berth, had a record of 7-12, with a chance to match their win total from a season ago when they were still the San Antonio Stars. (8) The mascot for the Aces is a rabbit, and there was a part of the game where he walked around on jumping stilts and fired T-shirts into the crowd using a T-shirt gun, and I was expecting to see a lot of things when I got to Las Vegas, but I will admit that a human-sized rabbit wearing jumping stilts holding a T-shirt gun was not one of them. (9) The Aces were down 11 at the start of the fourth quarter and down seven with a little over four minutes to go. (10) The Aces came back and won. (11) The game was so fucking fun.

Seattle Storm v Las Vegas Aces
Kayla McBride in a May 27, 2018 game against the Seattle Storm
Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

These are the things you hope for when you attend a basketball game in person:

  • A proper showing by a player you’re emotionally invested in. It feels so good.
  • A good comeback. Blowouts are fine enough, but a comeback—especially a big comeback—is the second-most uniquely satisfying experience you can have at a live sporting event. (The first most is when the two teams both show up ready for true war and throw flaming axes at each other’s faces for the entirety of the game.)
  • At least one tiny moment that you maybe would’ve missed if you’d watched the game on TV. This is fun for any number of reasons, the most important of which being that it’s always good to have some sort of anecdote you can throw out there when you’re talking about sports because it’ll make you seem smarter and more informed than you probably are. (An example: 14 years ago, I took my brother-in-law to a Rockets-Sixers game. Because we’d arrived so early, we were able to easily sneak down to the court area during shootaround. While standing there, trying not to make eye contact with any ushers, we saw Allen Iverson take a ball that had been tossed toward Brian Skinner, shoot it, then laugh. When Skinner got traded in 2005, my brother-in-law and I convinced each other that Iverson stealing the ball from Skinner during the shootaround was the beginning of the end for Skinner. I’m certain that that wasn’t actually the case, but I’ll go to my grave swearing that it was.)
  • At least one player from the team you’re rooting against doing something that makes you say, “If that player were on my team, they’d be my favorite player.” Every sports villain is always someone else’s sports hero.
  • A big performance from a star. Ideally, it’s from a player on the team you’re rooting for, but if it’s a truly massive and memorable performance (like, say, the time James Harden had the 53-16-17 triple-double on New Year’s Eve), then it doesn’t even matter if it’s someone from the team you’re rooting against. All that matters is that you’re able to say, “Man, do you remember when [NAME] had the [SOME IDENTIFIER] game? I was there for that.”
  • At least one big play. There needs to be a moment when everyone in the arena loses their shit because someone did something either wildly impressive (like an offensive player hits a heat check 28-footer or crosses up a defender so thoroughly that they fall down or a defender blocks a shot into the stands and then shouts curse words at the shooter) or wildly important (in almost all cases, it’s a shot that either wins a game or effectively puts a game away).

All of those boxes got checked off during the Sun-Aces game:

  • A proper showing by a player you’re emotionally invested in. It was Kayla McBride, a fireball guard for the Aces who a few days ago put up a career-high 38 points (on just 22 shots). She played very well against the Sun, including a stretch during the third when the Sun were trying to pull away and it felt like she kept the wheels from falling off the car long enough to keep the game within reach, and a stretch during the fourth when she decided she’d had enough of the bullshit and took over entirely. (If I’m remembering correctly, she scored something like nine points in two or three minutes [Ed. note: McBride scored seven points and had an assist over three minutes] to bring the Aces to within three.) She and A’ja have been a terror lately (they combined for 61 against the Sun, 52 against the Chicago Sky on July 5, and 60 against the Dallas Wings at the end of June). She was the one I was most excited about seeing in person.
  • A good comeback. The Sun shot something stupid from the field during the third quarter (it was like 76 percent or some shit like that; it was infuriating) and went into the fourth up by 11. And they were still up seven with just 4:16 left to go in the game, meaning that, per Inpredictable’s win calculator, they had an 89 percent chance to win. It was a super-sucky stretch, truly. But the Aces went on a 12-0 run over the next three minutes, including an and-1 by A’ja to put them up five with 1:12 to go, and honestly I thought my heart was going to explode watching it all happen. It was a great deal of fun, and exactly the kind of feeling you chase going to games.
  • At least one tiny moment that you maybe would’ve missed if you’d watched the game on TV. Kelsey Plum and Moriah Jefferson of Las Vegas sped around on the court with a great ferocity. Outside of the most obvious examples, it’s always hard to tell watching on TV if a guard is moving fast because they’re nervous or moving fast because they’re attacking. Sitting as near the court as we were, it was easy to see it was option B for Plum and Jefferson. They both played fast but without panic, which is the highest compliment, I think, to give a person whose job it is to move a basketball up and down a court.
  • At least one player from the team you’re rooting against doing something that makes you say, “If that player were on my team, they’d be my favorite player.” There were two here: (1) Chiney Ogwumike, starting forward for the Sun and also a likely All-Star, was very frustrating to watch, mostly on account of how she seemed to always be in exactly the right spot to take advantage of some miscue by the defense. It would be very great if she was on the Aces, but she is not, and so she is the enemy. (You can only imagine my horror when, after the game, I was able to speak with her for a few minutes and she proved to be funny and personable.) (2) Morgan Tuck, a bench player for the Sun who got loose enough times to put up 20 points in 26 minutes. It would also be very great if she was on the Aces, but she is not, and so she is also the enemy.
  • At least one big performance from a star. It was A’ja Wilson, which, let me tell you: Paying $140 for a basketball jersey feels like a much better investment if, in the hours immediately after you buy one, the jersey player goes bonkers during the game you’re watching, which is exactly what A’ja did. She was everywhere at all times, just being big and strong and deadly and terrifying. There was a point in the final minute or so of the game when the Aces had the ball and were up by two. As they got into their set, it became very clear that the play coach Bill Laimbeer had drawn up was the one where they just throw the ball to A’ja in the post and let her eat. And the reason I mention that moment here isn’t because she scored (she eventually did), but it’s because (a) everybody seemed to know that, with the game on the line, the ball was going to A’ja in that spot, and (b) also everybody seemed to know that, with the game on the line, A’ja wanted the ball in that spot. That’s the kind of energy you need from your best player during and at the end of games. You need that Nobody Can Fucking Stop Me energy. A’ja has that.
  • At least one big play. The and-1 play, obviously.

The Aces play the Chicago Sky (7-12) on Tuesday night. After that, their next three games are against teams that are legitimately aiming at winning a title this year (Maya Moore and the Minnesota Lynx, Candace Parker and the Los Angeles Sparks, and Diana Taurasi and the Phoenix Mercury). It’ll be an exciting week, if not a brutal one. Please let the Aces make the playoffs.