Whether they want to be or not, A’ja Wilson and Breanna Stewart’s careers will always be linked together. They’re both No. 1 overall picks that have each won MVPs, and have been fighting a tight MVP race, they were All-Star Game captains this season, and they’re in the middle of a tight playoff series that’ll end up with a Finals appearance. The two superstars are the League’s brightest stars firmly in the middle of their primes.
The two MVP candidates used those playoff implications to fuel a fire Game 2 duel that led to Wilson posting a game-high 33 points, 13 rebounds, and three blocks. Stewie poured in a Seattle-high 32 points, seven rebounds, three assists, and three blocks. Wilson not only won the Game 2 individual battle but has tied up the Seattle-Las Vegas war after the Aces won, 78-73.
“That’s what grows the game. Everyone loves a good matchup,” Wilson said per ESPN. “Everyone loves to be like, ‘Oh, what’s going to happen here?’ I think that’s what draws fans and attention to us. When you look at the NBA, when you look at football, anything, there’s always a good matchup that everyone’s tuned into no matter what.”
A’ja Wilson vs. Breanna Stewart.— WSLAM (@wslam) September 1, 2022
Best matchup in the WNBA, without a doubt. pic.twitter.com/xnoPxZUjaw
Wilson went 12-18 from the field and 8-11 from the free throw line during her career-best outing. Stewie went 12-23 from the field and 3-7 from beyond the arc, and scored at least 20 points for her eighth consecutive postgame. Wilson posted the fifth ever 30-point, 10-rebound, three-block performance in WNBA playoff history.
“I think matching up against A’ja, you’ve got to respect everything she has done and what’s she capable of,” Stewart said. “It’s just a battle. It’s what motivates you, what keeps you going, what makes you want to be better. It’s competitive.”
Her performance was also the second-highest playoff performance in Aces franchise history, just behind Coach Becky Hammond and her franchise-record 35-point performance in 2008. Stewart and Wilson are the third pair of opposing players to score 30 points in W-playoff history. It was also the first time two playoff opponents did that and recorded three blocks.
“I’m watching it during the game,” Aces teammate Chelsea Gray said. “I’m like, ‘Stewie just scored; A’ja, what are you about to do?’ Those matchups, a lot of attention is on it, and there is a lot of these players are going through with all that pressure to be that spotlight. But it’s good for the fans, it’s good for the sport and it’s good for them. It raises their level of play. They get better by challenging each other.”
Wednesday’s Game 2 effort was a vast improvement from Wilson’s disappointing semifinal opener when she posted eight points and 12 rebounds in Game 1.
Hammon utilized a small-ball lineup that helped Las Vegas’ spacing, giving Wilson plenty of room to operate in her preferred spots. She and Gray showed how deadly they are in the pick-and-roll. Gray contributed 19 points and seven assists on 66.7 percent shooting from the field, 3-5 shooting from beyond the arc. Gray has accounted for 44 percent of Las Vegas’ 151 points in the semifinals per ESPN.
“When you look at great guards and great posts, the whole thing is you’ve got to figure out how to guard it,” Wilson said of the pick-and-roll. “You have to pick your poison. What are you going to do? Once we mastered that, it’s like Play-Doh in our hands at that point.”
From 8 points in Game 1 to 33 points in Game 2 of the Semifinals, @_ajawilson22 speaks on what changed and how team chemistry has allowed the @LVAces to perform under pressure. #WNBAPlayoffs presented by @Google pic.twitter.com/dCAGjcHMiy— WNBA (@WNBA) September 1, 2022
Seattle will host Las Vegas on Sunday and Tuesday for Game 3 and 4. The last time the Storm and Ace faced off in the playoffs, Seattle swept Las Vegas for their fourth-ever championship. Seattle likely remains confident after splitting the first two games of the semifinals as the No. 4 seed.