LAS VEGAS — Las Vegas ace forward A’ja Wilson had this thought more than once while watching film about the 2014 NBA champion San Antonio Spurs.
“These people,” she thought, “are a lot like us.”
Center Tim Duncan, small forward Kawhi Leonard, shooting guard Manu Ginobili and point guard Tony Parker are the core of the Spurs. Wilson and guards Chelsea Gray, Kelsey Plumb and Jackie Young are the core of the Aces, the defending WNBA champions trying to defend their title this year.
Las Vegas head coach Becky Hammon thinks it will help the Aces watch the Spurs perform in 2014 and support each other, when the Spurs won their fifth and most recent NBA championship.
The Aces won a championship last year under Hammon, which showed the players’ ability to work together as a team. They don’t need outside motivation to try to turn things around this year. Still, Hammon hopes the Aces will take note of how the Spurs came together in 2014.
“I found a lot of similarities in the personalities of the two teams,” Harmon said. “The care, selflessness, and commitment to win at all costs that the 2014 team displayed, no matter who gets the credit.
“That’s my expectation going into the playoffs. I told them, ‘You have the ability to do this. There are some games we have to win through defense and being unselfish.'”
The Aces improved to 6-0 in the playoffs and defeated the New York Liberty 99-82 in Game 1 of the WNBA Finals on Sunday. Las Vegas will try to take a commanding lead in the best-of-five series in Game 2 on Wednesday (9 p.m. PT, / App) at Michelob Ultra Arena.
Not since the 2001-2002 Los Angeles Sparks has a team won back-to-back WNBA championships. Hammon plays against the Sparks just as she did against the Houston Comets (four consecutive championships from 1997 to 2000) and Minnesota Lynx (four championships from 2011 to 2017).
In 2014, Hammon’s career was coming to an end when she suffered a torn ACL early in the 2013 WNBA season. So she began preparing for her coaching career, spending the entire 2013-14 NBA season with the Spurs while rehabbing her knee.
Hammon returned to the court for her final season in the WNBA in 2014 and officially joined Gregg Popovich’s Spurs coaching staff that fall.
Football is often called the “beautiful game,” but basketball during the Spurs’ prime in 2014 was just as stunning. It’s like a passing symphony. The Spurs can manipulate the ball like a magician until they get the best look after possession.
After the disappointment of losing to the Miami Heat in the 2013 NBA Finals, the Spurs returned their core players and posted a 62-20 record in the 2013-14 season. They lead the league in assists per game (25.2), three-point field goal percentage (39.7) and net rating (8.1); they rank second in field goal percentage (48.6); and they rank sixth in scoring average.
“We know we are more than capable of being individual stars. But we can’t achieve our overall goals without each other.”
A’ja Wilson on Ace
Their cohesion and mutual support goes beyond even the numbers.
“Watching the Spurs now reminds me of some of the similarities between us,” said Wilson, who was a high school senior in 2014. “They both have the ability to take over games, but they know they can’t win the championship without each other.
“That’s us, too. We know we’re more than capable of being individual stars. But we can’t achieve our overall goals without each other. We hold each other accountable, and we make sacrifices. They’re very disciplined, and so are we.”
During the regular season, the Aces led the WNBA in scoring (92.8 points), field goal percentage (48.6), offensive efficiency (114.8) and defensive efficiency (99.2) and were second in assists (24.1). For 34 wins and 6 losses.
“Just looking at Tim Duncan’s relationship with Popovich and my relationship with Becky — it’s unbelievable how similar they look,” Wilson said. “I do relate to that.”
Gray also recalled a scene in 2014 when Parker briefly spoke to Popovich among the coaches on the court, then returned to the bench with a dry erase board to show his teammates. As a point guard, Gray said she’s done this a few times herself.
“What really stood out to me was that everyone was fighting for each other,” Gray said. “You’ll have the most success when you want the best for the people around you. And then it flows throughout the organization.”