There’s a certain amount of poetry to it: Last season, the Las Vegas Aces and the Dallas Wings played each other in the second-to-last game of the season. The two teams were headed in opposite directions: The Aces were on a two-game winning streak and suddenly, despite being four games under .500, looking at a potential playoff spot if they could win their final two games. The Wings were on a nine-game losing streak (that included a player being traded and a head coach being fired) and suddenly, despite having gone into the season as one of the favorites, looking at the potential of missing the playoffs entirely. It was as high stakes of a matchup as a regular-season game can get, because it had, in effect, the same ramifications of a postseason game.
And as good as eventual rookie of the year A’ja Wilson was (34 points, seven rebounds, four blocks) for the Aces, Liz Cambage, the all-world center for the Wings, was better. She was everywhere, doing all of the things, tearing the arms and legs off of anyone who happened to be standing anywhere near her. She led the game in points (43 points ON ONLY 20 SHOT ATTEMPTS), she led the game in rebounds (13), and she led the game in free throw attempts (16, which was as many as the entire Aces team shot). It was a masterful performance. By the time the night was over, the Wings were in the playoffs, the Aces were out of the playoffs, and Liz had recorded the league’s second 40-plus-point double-double game of the year. Liz ended the Aces’ season that night. Which is why it’s so perfect that it’s Liz who, after strong-arming her way out of Dallas this offseason and ending up in Las Vegas via trade, has turned the Aces into a proper title contender this season.
Here is a long and good profile that Lindsay Gibbs wrote about Liz Cambage this past summer. For the piece, Gibbs used an interview with Cambage from right before the Wings-Aces game I mentioned above. I’m including it here because, given the context, I think it’s interesting to see what kind of headspace Cambage was in before going into that game.
The thing above about Liz’s 43-12 game being only the second time last season that a WNBA player got a 40-plus-point double-double: Guess who it was who got the other one.
It was Liz.
She put up 53 and 12 against the New York Liberty in July.
That one took her only 22 shots.
On just 22 shots.
She’s a menace.
And the most dominant big in the league.
In 2009, a movie called Inglourious Basterds was released. Part of the plot included following along with a group of U.S. soldiers as they tried to track down (and eventually kill) many high-ranking members of the Third Reich (including Adolf Hitler). Along the way, there was a part where they interrogated a Nazi soldier and tried to get some information out of him. (Brad Pitt does the interrogating.) The Nazi soldier refuses to give up any information, so Brad Pitt tells him that if he doesn’t talk, he’s going to call over the Bear Jew, a large person who enjoys beating Nazi soldiers to death with a baseball bat. The Nazi soldier again declines, and so Pitt calls the Bear Jew.
The Bear Jew (Donny Donowitz, played by Eli Roth) walks up to the Nazi soldier, asks him about a medal he has pinned to his jacket, sizes up the Nazi soldier’s head with the baseball bat, and then cracks him across the side of his skull with it as hard as he can. A bloody mist explodes into the air. The Nazi soldier falls over, completely incapacitated, and the Bear Jew goes all the way bonkers, just smashing and smashing and smashing the Nazi soldier; head, stomach, legs, head, head, head, head, head, head, head, head. He caves the Nazi soldier’s whole head in. It’s truly gross, and truly gruesome.
That’s how Liz Cambage plays basketball. That’s what she does to opponents. She just beats them in the head with a baseball bat until they stop moving. It’s fantastic.
I am aware that, what with the Aces being my favorite team, it might be easy to disregard it when I say that they’re going to win the WNBA championship this year, same as it’s easy to disregard it when I say that my son is the best T-ball player on earth (he’s not even the best T-ball player on his T-ball team). But this isn’t that. This isn’t me just being hopeful and optimistic. Because consider this:
Since the Aces missed the playoffs after losing that game to the Wings last year, they ended up in the lottery again. And because the universe (I am left to believe) is building something special in Las Vegas, the Aces, for a third year in a row, backdoored their way into the no. 1 pick. And with that no. 1 pick, they selected Jackie Young, a junior guard from Notre Dame who played in back-to-back national championships in 2018 (they won this one) and 2019 (they lost this one). And then the Aces got Liz.
That means Las Vegas can now put out onto the court a lineup that includes an all-star shooting guard who can go into Flame On mode at a moment’s notice (Kayla McBride), a no. 1 draft pick at point guard who speeds around the court like a fucking race car made of lasers (Kelsey Plum), last year’s rookie of the year and a terrifying offensive threat (A’ja Wilson), last year’s MVP runner-up and league leader in scoring (Liz Cambage), and a Big Moments rookie guard who already knows what it takes to put a championship belt around her waist (Jackie Young).
The Aces are going to be a real problem.
They missed the playoffs last year, and they’re going to win the WNBA championship this year.
There’s a certain amount of poetry to it.