Photo by Meghan Hall/The Atlanta Voice

The Las Vegas Aces defeat the Atlanta Dream 112-100 behind reigning MVP A’ja Wilson’s historic 53 points.

Before tonight’s game, Dream head coach Tanisha Wright talked about the mission not changing despite being without All-Star Allisha Gray, who is nursing an ankle injury. Forward Naz Hillmon echoed her thoughts, saying, “It’s hard to replace a Nia. It’s hard to replace an Allisha and a Rhyne. Obviously, everyone has to do their role to the best of their ability. That starts on the defensive end.”

Poetic words from Hillmon reverberate through the Dream as the game opens. Hillmon hits Cheyenne Parker for an easy bucket. A few plays later, Parker unleashes a timely block on reigning MVP, the Las Vegas Aces’ Aj’a Wilson. The rest of the team takes their cue and shows active hands, getting deflections and scoring points to match. Yet, Wilson is a one-woman wrecking crew. At just under the 5-minute mark, Wilson has 11 of the Aces’ 18 points. The Dream decided they would not be denied despite Wilson’s best efforts. With points from Haley Jones, Monique Billings, Rhyne Howard, and Parker, the Dream claw their way out in front. At the end of one, Wilson has a blistering 16 points, but it’s the Dream who lead 34-33.

The second quarter is an all-out brawl. It opens with a turnover by the Aces from a timely deflection that center Iliana Rupert created. On the other end of the floor, Aari McDonald uses her energy to create offense. The team is rolling by making their shots and drawing fouls. The quiet force that is Danielle Robinson is heating up as she steals a ball and scores on the other end, tying the game at 46 all. However, the Aces and Wilson have not gone away. Wilson is up to a game-high 22 points, and dynamic point guard Chelsea Gray has 14 points to match the efforts of Robinson. By halftime, the Aces lead 56-55.

The third quarter opens with a quick pass from Howard to Hillmon under the basket. The Aces immediately clamp down and double Howard, but the Dream are not fazed. McDonald bangs a three-pointer, and the team cruises to catch up to the Aces. The game is tied at 60 points around the seven-minute mark when the Aces do what they do best: capitalize on mistakes. The Aces catch the Dream sleeping, and Gray punishes them with a three; Wilson blocks a shot on the other end and promptly scores. This forces a timeout, but it feels too late. Wilson is up to 30 points, and the lead balloons substantially. The Dream cannot buy a bucket, and the Aces leap out in front, 82-68.

The fourth quarter arrives, and it feels like the Dream don’t have any more energy left. They painfully turn the ball over in the opening seconds and continue missing shots they easily made early on. For the Aces, Young wakes up and scores a quick five points that feels like 30, given the Dream’s woes. With just under six minutes to play, the lead is nearly 20, despite the strength of Jones, who is up to 19 points. Wilson will not be denied, and Gray is there to back her up with 16 points, ten assists, and nine rebounds. Wilson is unraveling history books as she drops a back-breaking 53 points on 70% shooting. That stat line is suitable for third in WNBA history among players who have scored 50 or more. Still, the Dream keep fighting till the end with buckets to trim the lead. Howard finishes with 27 points, and rookie Haley Jones is right behind her with 23 points, six rebounds, and five assists. However, the Aces swiftly roll 112-100.

“Not the ending we wanted, but I thought we fought for three quarters. That third quarter got us,” said Wright. “I think our shot selection wasn’t great, (and we did not have) the ability to get stops down the stretch.” Wright went on to say that she was pleased with the toughness shown by the Dream, but the team must move past this game because they have another matchup Friday. She did stop to reflect on the stellar performance of Jones.

“Haley did an amazing job of picking her spots, attacking downhill and in transition and picking good opportunities to shift the defense. Jones chimed in with her thoughts on her performance, saying, “Recently, we’ve had some people go down, and we talk about next person up…My teammates did a good job of playmaking and having more flow. I like playing in transition and (taking advantage) of the (many) opportunities I had tonight.”

The Dream are back home again on Friday to take on the Los Angeles Sparks (13-18) at 8:00 PM EDT.