Michael VobelESPN.com5 minutes to read
But right after the August victory, Wilson made sure to tell goalkeeper Kelsey Bloom how proud she was of her.
“Are you talking about growth?” Wilson said after Bloom had 19 points, 10 assists and shot 70% from the field. “This is growth. Every day you come in and get better.”
“We joke with her about not passing the basketball. But she shows us every day that she’s working on that aspect of her game. We couldn’t do the things we do if she wasn’t attacking and shooting the ball.”
After a couple of months, Bloom may need to spend some of the most important minutes of her career in a playmaker role. The Aces hold a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five WNBA Finals heading into Wednesday’s Game 4 (8 p.m. ET, ESPN/ESPN app) against the New York Liberty at Barclays Center.
Aces coach Becky Hammon said Tuesday that starting point guard Chelsea Gray will miss Game 4 with a foot injury. She left Sunday losing Game 3 87-73 in the fourth quarter. Hammon Gray is questionable for Friday’s Game 5, and added that center Kiah Stokes will also miss Game 4.
Bloom and Jackie Young, who started alongside Gray the last three seasons in Las Vegas, may have to take over point guard duties instead. The Aces canceled their optional photo session on Monday, so they were not available to meet with the media. But Aces coach Becky Hammon spoke on Sunday about how Bloom, Young and reserves Kierstan Bell and Sydney Coulson will be relied upon in Gray’s absence.
For Bloom, who led the Aces with 29 points on Sunday, it’s a task she’s prepared for throughout her six-season WNBA career.
“It’s hard trying to redefine yourself,” Hammon said of Bloom’s progression as a professional player. “But she did.”
The No. 1 overall pick in 2017 by the San Antonio Stars in their final season before the franchise moved to Las Vegas, Bloom has always been an electric scorer. She led the Washington Huskies to their only women’s Final Four appearance in 2016 and then set the NCAA Division I scoring record in 2017.
In her WNBA career, she became an All-Star caliber player by expanding every aspect of her game, including passing. She has especially excelled under Hammon: In 2022, Bloom averaged 20.2 points and 5.1 assists in the regular season, and this year at 18.7 PPG and 4.5 APG.
They worked a lot on rim reads, as Bloom improved her decision-making and discipline — such as when it’s best for her to try to score at the rim (something she could actually do at will in college) and when it’s best to pass.
So far in the Aces’ eight playoff games this year, Bloom is averaging 19.8 points and 3.6 assists. Meanwhile, Young averaged 17.6 points and 3.8 assists in the regular season, and is 16.8 and 4.8 in the playoffs.
Young is also a former No. 1 pick, reaching the Ace in 2019. Her growth path has been a little different than Bloom’s. Young was a terrific scorer as a star at Indiana high school, then won a national championship with Notre Dame. She entered the draft after her junior season, averaging 6.6 points and 4.5 assists her rookie year. Becoming a three-point shooter — which she has improved amazingly — is the area where Young has had to work the hardest.
Young made a combined 22 3-pointers in her first three seasons in the WNBA. Last year she had 50 in the regular season and 18 in the playoffs. This year, she has 89 and 20. Bloom averaged 36.4 minutes in the playoffs and Young 34.5, so both already carry a heavy load. It will likely be that and more on Wednesday.
Hammon said the Aces in Game 3 “messed up every fucking scheme” defensively, and if she goes out, that’s another area they’ll miss Gray. But even when Gray was on Sunday, Bloom said the Aces were stagnant offensively for too long a period of time.
“When they’re able to load the ball and rally it, it’s really hard to get good looks,” Bloom said. “I felt like we didn’t do a great job of moving the ball and playing from close range, which is what gave us success in the first two games.
“We play fast, but it’s more about ball movement and player movement. There were times when we might be a little faster. That’s something we can control and adjust, as we’ve done all year.”
Adjusting to being without Gray, if it comes to that, is something the Aces never had to do; I’ve played every game in 2023 so far. But the Aces got this far because they got good teamwork from several talented individual players. They will have to rely on both to win the tournament.
“Prone to fits of apathy. Introvert. Award-winning internet evangelist. Extreme beer expert.”