Saturday, July 15, 2023 | 9:40 p.m.
There’s only so much a basketball team can do on the court when trailing by 20 points in an all-star game. Spirits need to be kept up in some regard.
Even if that means A’ja Wilson has to dance with a broom that she’s supposed to use to get a stuck basketball from behind the backboard.
It was that kind of energy and positive attitude that Wilson wanted for the WNBA’s All-Star weekend in Las Vegas, and even though Wilson’s team lost 143-127 to Breanna Stewart’s team at Michelob ULTRA Arena on Saturday, the Aces’ superstar was proud to be part of the experience.
“Team Wilson had a couple breakdowns,” Wilson said jokingly. “We’ve got to go back to the drawing board, but it’s all right. We’ll be back.”
Wilson, captaining her group as the WNBA’s leading All-Star vote-getter in her fifth All-Star Game, finished with 20 points and five rebounds. It was her first loss in her three times as captain. Las Vegas teammate Kelsey Plum had a team-high 30 points in 21 minutes as a reserve.
But it was the team captained by Stewart, the superstar from the New York Liberty, that had the night to remember. Seattle Storm guard Jewell Loyd scored an All-Star Game record 31 points — surpassing Plum’s mark of 30 from last year — and was named the game’s MVP.
Stewart finished with nine points on 4 of 11 shooting, but her group had six players finish in double figures.
One of those was Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner in her eighth All-Star Game, her first since being released from a Russian prison in December after serving a 10-month sentence on drug-related charges. Griner finished with 18 points and 13 rebounds.
Last year’s All-Star Game in Chicago was a tribute to Griner with each player wearing her No. 42. This year’s game was about celebration. Griner was Stewart’s first pick in the All-Star draft.
The 6-foot-9 Griner also made her presence felt with a right-handed dunk in the first quarter.
“Looking back to last year, especially the All-Star [Game] and really throughout the entire season, it was like there’s a void in the WNBA and there’s something that’s missing,” Stewart said. “And that was BG. And we continued to do whatever we could to make sure she knew that we were still thinking of her, we were still fighting for her.”
Though defense is usually optional in All-Star Games, it was a difficult shooting night for Team Wilson, outside of the team captain and Plum. Fellow Aces All-Star guards Chelsea Gray (2 for 8) and Jackie Young (2 for 12) combined to shoot 20% from the floor.
Dallas Wings guard Arike Ogunbowale, the third-leading scorer in the league, shot 8 of 23 to finish with 18 points. Atlanta Dream guard Rhyne Howard also had 18 points but shot 5 of 15.
Team Stewart shot a collective 50%.
“It’s always been fun. Even when I was a player, these things were fun,” said Aces coach Becky Hammon, also the coach of Team Wilson. “It’s just nice to kind of relax, get away from the game a little bit, but still be with the people that probably understand you and get you the most.”
Las Vegas has become the home of basketball this week between the NBA Summer League and the WNBA having its midseason classic in Las Vegas for the third time in four seasons. But WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert said that next year’s game will not be held in Las Vegas despite her praise on the activity surrounding the event.
Engelbert, who said Phoenix will host next year’s All-Star Game, said the league’s fanfest, WNBA Live, was a hit for its two-day stint and that meet-and-greets throughout the week were a success.
“It’s a great market to be in,” Engelbert said. “Our players love coming here. We, at the league, love coming here. So I’m sure Vegas will be in our future plans.”