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The Nasty, Brutal, Beautiful Triumph of A’ja Wilson and the Las Vegas Aces

The deciding Game 5 against the Connecticut Sun was basically a 40-minute-long torture scene. But the Aces came out of it alive, and now they’re in the WNBA Finals.

AP Images/Ringer illustration

It’s all a mess; all muddy; all ugly; all a disaster; all shipwrecked into the kind of nothingness that is so expansive and so desolate that it feels less like nothingness and more like an eventuality. It’s hard to make sense of any of it, really.

The Las Vegas Aces won Game 5 of the WNBA semifinals against the Connecticut Sun on Tuesday night. The Sun allowed the Aces to score only 27 points in the second half. The Aces allowed the Sun to score only 18. It was a nasty, nasty, brutal, nasty, beautiful game.

The furniture is ruined. The carpet is ruined. Even the concrete underneath the carpet is ruined, that’s how bloodsoaked everything is. Holes have been punched and kicked into the walls. Someone’s clawed LASCIATE OGNE SPERANZA, VOI CH’ENTRATE into the ceiling. The room smells of spilled acid, and of anger, and of violence, and of more violence, and of yet even more violence still. There’s no sound. Not even of your own breathing. Because you’re not breathing. Because, standing there in the doorway looking in on the carnage, your spirit knows that any life that escapes from your body here will not be replaced.

It will be lost. Forever. Yet another sacrifice.

A sacrifice to the abyss. To the cosmos. To teeth and talons that ache for flesh and calamity. To monsters. To demons. To warlords. To wicked beasts of immeasurable cruelty. To a single red leg sleeve. To A’ja Wilson, who holds death over your head like a prize, and a butcher’s knife pressed to your throat like a promise.


Here are six things that are true:

  1. A’ja Wilson, league MVP, played every single second of Game 5.
  2. A’ja Wilson, league MVP, had more combined rebounds, blocks, and assists than any other player on the court in Game 5.
  3. A’ja Wilson, league MVP, scored more points than anyone else in Game 5.
  4. A’ja Wilson, league MVP, scored the final nine points of the game for the Aces.
  5. A’ja Wilson, league MVP, scored more points in the fourth quarter of Game 5 by herself than the Connecticut Sun did as a team.
  6. A’ja Wilson, league MVP, did all of those things in the biggest, most pressure-packed, high-stakes moment of her professional career. She stared down all of the expectations that had been dropped down onto her shoulders this year, and all of the setbacks the team had faced this season (they’re missing their starting center, and their starting point guard, and their most crucial energy player), and all of the disappointment that came with losing in the semifinals last postseason. She looked it dead in the eyes, breathed fire through her nose, then went the fuck to work.

Las Vegas didn’t score a single field goal over the final eight minutes of Game 5. Connecticut shot 24 percent from the field for the entire second half.

Remember the scene in Misery when Annie breaks Paul’s ankles with a sledgehammer? That’s what the tension in Game 5 felt like. Remember the scene in Drive when the Driver turns that one guy’s face into a bloody salad in an elevator? That’s what the tension in Game 5 felt like. Remember the scene in Insidious when the mom asks the demon what it wants and it points at the kid in the bed? That’s what the tension in Game 5 felt like. Remember the hand or foot scene in City of God? That’s what the tension in Game 5 felt like. Remember the scalping scene in Bone Tomahawk? That’s what the tension in Game 5 felt like.


Here are six more true things:

  1. Angel McCoughtry, who averaged a little over 14 points per game this season, scored a combined 49 points over games 4 and 5, none of them bigger than the two quick 3s she hit in the second quarter of Game 5 when Connecticut was threatening to stretch its 16-point lead into something even more treacherous. The Aces lose Game 5 without those two shots, and they lose Game 5 without her constant gravity pulling players away from A’ja Wilson in the post.
  2. Carolyn Swords, who was literally a member of the Las Vegas front office and came out of retirement to play center as a fill-in after Liz Cambage received a medical exemption from joining the team in the bubble, was fucking awesome in Game 5. She was exactly what was needed, which is to say a bruiser who patrolled the paint hunting for loose limbs and errant shots.
  3. I miss Dearica Hamby desperately. She suffered a knee injury during the first quarter of Game 3 and went on to miss games 4 and 5. She’s the back-to-back Sixth Woman of the Year, and these games now—the all-caps LATE-ROUND PLAYOFF GAMES in which it becomes less about basketball and more about how many times you can get kicked in the chest and keep moving forward—are the exact games that she’s built for.
  4. Kayla McBride shot more 3s in Game 5 than the rest of the team combined. That’s good. I hope that she continues to do that. She’s the deadliest pure perimeter threat that the Aces have.
  5. Danielle Robinson has become an absolute You Have To Have Her On The Court As Much As Possible player. She has no panic in her at all, which is exactly the kind of genetic composition a player has to have deep in the playoffs when the water starts to get real deep and real cold. Her single best moment of the game happened on the final possession: Connecticut, which was trailing by three, ran a quick off-the-ball screen to get the ball into DeWanna Bonner’s hands (which is always a good idea if you have DeWanna Bonner on your team). Robinson inserted herself into the action and then glued herself to Bonner’s chromosomes. Everywhere that Bonner tried to step, Robinson was already there. The play ended with Bonner not only forcing up a desperation shot, but a shot from one foot inside the 3-point line, meaning that even if it had somehow managed to find its way in it would have been harmless anyway.
  6. Early in the game, A’ja Wilson got loose for a contested layup. She hollered “And-1!” as the ball dropped into the basket—and she was assessed a technical foul for it. The reigning league MVP … was called for a technical foul … for saying “And-1!” … during a Game 5 that was going to decide who was going to the Finals. Figure that shit out.

The Las Vegas Aces won Game 5 of the WNBA semifinals against the Connecticut Sun on Tuesday night. The Sun allowed the Aces to score only 27 points in the second half. The Aces allowed the Sun to score only 18. It was a nasty, nasty, brutal, nasty, beautiful game.

Now they play the Seattle Storm in the Finals.

A new torture room awaits.