Sunday’s second-round playoff elimination game between the no. 4–seeded Las Vegas Aces and the no. 5–seeded Chicago Sky ended with the Aces winning by one, a result made possible by this incredible shot by Dearica Hamby:
Same as we’ve done before with other mammoth shots, let’s go through the best parts of the play, because there are so many “bests” of the play, because the play was unbelievable, because Dearica Hamby is incredible.
Sydney Colson’s Getting Involved in the Play
Of all of the non–Dearica Hamby people involved in this particular play, it’s Sydney Colson who I find the most fascinating, and who I am most impressed with. When Sky guard Diamond DeShields inbounded the ball to Courtney Vandersloot with just under 13 seconds left in regulation, Vandersloot slipped away from Kelsey Plum (who was trying to foul her). The reason Vandersloot did so was because she wanted to burn extra seconds off the clock before the foul came. It was absolutely the correct thing to do, because if things worked out like she expected them to (and like everyone else who was watching the game expected them to), she’d have gotten the clock down to five or so seconds before either (a) she was fouled, or (b) she passed the ball to someone else, who then would’ve gotten fouled. And had that happened, then there’d have been a Sky player at the line with a chance to put the Sky up by four, which would’ve basically ended all of everything for the Aces. But that’s not what happened. And the reason it didn’t happen is Sydney Colson.
Colson, who was 50 feet away from the play as it started, recognized immediately that Vandersloot had outmaneuvered Plum. And she also recognized that Vandersloot was going to run a bunch of extra time off the clock. And she also recognized that something needed to be done because otherwise the Aces were toast. So, because she is smart and a veteran and exactly the kind of player you want in the game in a moment like that, she sprinted toward Vandersloot in the backcourt to help. (If you watch the clip and you only focus on Colson, you see her insta-calculate all of this in her head in literally less than a second.) Take a look at where she had to come from to help:
As soon as Vandersloot saw Colson heading toward her, she picked up her dribble, jumped into the air, then tried to pass out of what was going to be a double-team. That’s how Hamby got the steal, which led to the miracle, which led to the euphoria. All of that happened because Colson forced that action, so it’s Colson who gets the big high five here.
The down-Up!-down-UP!!!!!!!!!!!!! Ride the Crowd Goes On
Everything’s done. Everything’s over. Everyone’s dead. That’s very much what it felt like watching Vandersloot begin to dribble out the remaining seconds of the game, and it’s very much what the Thomas & Mack Center sounded and felt like through the TV. It was a total bummer, and a total drag, and a very shitty end to an otherwise enjoyable game. Then Vandersloot tried to make the pass, and that’s when the arena woke up. As soon as Hamby started to make her move toward the steal, the volume in the stadium went up. Hamby stole it, the crowd went fucking bozo, then she pulled up to shoot it and everyone was like, “Hold on a second.” The volume started to drop back down when everyone realized a monster mistake was happening, then the shot banged in and the crowd this time went all-caps-and-with-spaces F U C K I N G B O Z O. And listen, yes, I know that technically it was not a good idea for Hamby to shoot it in that spot (THERE WERE NEARLY EIGHT SECONDS LEFT WHEN SHE DECIDED TO SHOOT IT), but I’m glad that she did because it makes all of the pieces so much more fun, more unbelievable, and more interesting. (This, of course, is assuming you are an Aces fan. If you are a Chicago Sky fan, I have to figure your tongue turned to ash in your mouth during all this.) And since we’re here …
That’s how much time was on the clock when Dearica Hamby pulled up to shoot her running, one-legged 38-footer. SEVEN POINT SIX SECONDS. What’s more, she had Colson wide open for a layup ahead of her. Hamby said after the game that she was glad God was with her on that shot because she’d have never been able to live with herself had she not made it. I have to imagine, though, that God was not there with her. I have to imagine that God, like the rest of us, saw Hamby pulling up to shoot it and said, “Dearica, what?” And then I have to imagine that God, like the rest of us, saw the shot go in and said, “DEARICA NEVER MIND ACTUALLY YOU’RE A GODDAMN GENIUS OR ACTUALLY SHOULD I SAY A ME-DAMN GENIUS AND THE BEST AND THE GREATEST AND THANK YOU AND YESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS!” And then I have to imagine God smacked a plate of wings out of Jesus’s hands and was like, “YOU MIGHT BE ABLE TO TURN WATER TO WINE BUT DEARICA HAMBY JUST TURNED A RUNNING, ONE-LEGGED 38-FOOTER WITH 7.6 SECONDS LEFT ON THE CLOCK INTO A GOOD IDEA SO YOU TELL ME WHO’S THE REAL MIRACLE WORKER HERE, JESUS!”
“Vandersloot … looks at the clock … daring them to foul her …THAT’S A DANGEROUS PASS … HAMBYYYYYY … SHOT IT WHEN SHE DIDN’T NEED TO AND IT WENT IN!”
It will never not be amazing to me how the highest-level sports announcers—Pam Ward and LaChina Robinson in this case—are able to say, nearly without exception, exactly the right thing in the coolest ways possible during moments that are so overwhelming that everyone else’s teeth and lips turn to bubble gum.
This Picture That the Las Vegas Aces Twitter Account Posted
She looks so calm here. Confident, even. She made the game-saving steal, hit the game-winning 3, and disrupted the final shot by the Sky to save the game again. And she did all of that on the same day she picked up her trophy for winning the WNBA’s Sixth Woman of the Year award. It was probably so much fun being Dearica Hamby on Sunday.
(A quick aside that doesn’t have anything to do with anything but that I would like to mention: Bill Laimbeer played five Aces for more than 30 minutes against the Sky, and everyone else basically got in for one- or two-minute spurts. [Tamera Young is the exception. She played 16 minutes.] He played Liz Cambage for 32, A’ja Wilson for 35, Kayla McBride for 31, Kelsey Plum for 34, and Hamby for 32. Of those, Kelsey’s minute allotment is the most interesting. She was outstanding in the game, and a big part of the reason I’m excited for the Aces’ upcoming series against the Washington Mystics. Because let me tell you what: If Playoff Kelsey becomes a thing, the Aces are going to become a very, very hard team to beat.)
The “WHAT EVEN IS A CHAIR?” Moment
This will be difficult for you to look at, but look at this:
See the very last player on the Chicago Sky bench? I can’t tell exactly who it is, but I can tell exactly how much it hurt her when Hamby’s shot went in. It hurt her so much that she couldn’t think to do anything else except sit down on the floor. It hurt her so much that she forgot that chairs existed. That’s an R&B video for a song about a heartbreak level of hurt.
The Chicago Sky Head Coach
His name is James Wade. This was his first year coaching the Sky. And he did such a good job of it that he won the 2019 WNBA Coach of the Year (the Sky were 13-21 last season; they were 20-14 this season, and made the playoffs for the first time since 2016). He’s a talent. And the Sky should’ve won this game. But they didn’t. They lost on a crusher. Which is why he’s so far out on the court during the game.
You can always tell how upset a coach is by how far the aforementioned coach is willing to go out onto the court before calling a timeout. Getting inside the 3-point line before calling a timeout during a basketball game is the easiest way for a coach to say “Hey, referee, what the fuck, you idiot?” without actually having to say it.
First it’s shock (her hands go up in the air while she’s screaming), then it’s more shock (her hands move down to her head while her mouth hangs open but nothing comes out), then it’s recognition (she realizes she needs to turn around to play defense in case the Sky inbound the ball), then it’s back to shock (she spins back around when she sees the Sky are going to call a timeout), then it’s awe (she hugs A’ja Wilson because A’ja Wilson is standing there and Hamby’s body is so full of excitement and joy that she needs to try to transfer some of it to someone else before she bursts), then it’s back to shock (she tries to find a replay on a screen somewhere so she can see what the fuck just happened). It’s all great. Basketball players reacting to their own athletic brilliance is one of the very best things about basketball. And since A’ja Wilson was mentioned briefly in this paragraph …
A’ja Wilson’s Face
She looks like she’s just watched a bicycle messenger get hit by a taxi.
Kayla McBride’s Surrender Cobra
Same as with any other emotion, there are different levels of disbelief. And somewhere up near the top of the Sports Disbelief Chart is the thing where you watch someone on your team do something so improbable that you react the same way you’d react if you’d just lost the game. That’s what Kayla McBride does here after Hamby’s shot goes in. She assumes the Surrender Cobra position, which is typically reserved for people who’ve just watched their team lose a game in a truly agonizing way. HAMBY’S shot was so miraculous that Kayla McBride became a member of the Chicago Sky for a few seconds.
Between the 2:47 mark of the fourth quarter and Hamby’s steal at the 0:09 mark, the Aces had five offensive possessions. They ended like this: Possession 1, turnover that led to a layup; Possession 2, missed shot in the paint; Possession 3, missed shot in the paint; Possession 4, missed shot in the paint; and Possession 5, turnover. It was a nasty little stretch of basketball; the kind that eats at you when your team loses a close game. But Hamby’s shot erased it all. Her shot erased it all so thoroughly, in fact, that it changed the whole, entire conversation that’s going to happen about the Aces over the next few days (and potentially longer). Because when you lose a game like that, when you car falls apart while you’re in the middle of driving it, the conversation is something like, “These are the facts: The Aces were playing in an elimination game at home and up five with three minutes to go and lost. Did they choke? Are they chokers? There’s no way you can look at how that game ended and come to any other conclusion then yes, they are chokers.” But when you win a game after having a stretch like that, the conversation is something like, “These are the facts: The Aces were down two with 13 seconds left and the Sky had the ball and everything had gone wrong for the Aces and it didn’t matter. They did what they had to do. The Aces are battle-tough. The Aces are war-ready. They put a tough stretch behind them, gathered themselves, then forced a turnover and won the game. That’s who the Aces are. They don’t panic. They don’t rattle. They just keep coming. And if you want to beat them in the playoffs, you’re going to have to put a stake through their hearts and then set the bodies on fire. Otherwise, they just keep coming for you.”
That’s the conversation we get to have about the Aces now.
That’s the conversation we get to have about the Aces now because of Dearica Hamby.