SEATTLE -- After trading shots with the host Seattle Storm in the final seconds of an instant classic, the Las Vegas Aces made the final basket and then pulled away in overtime to win a thrilling Game 3 110-98 on Sunday and take a 2-1 lead in the teams' best-of-five semifinal series.
"This was a hell of a game," Las Vegas coach Becky Hammon said. "I don't know if I've ever been a part of something like that -- the back-and-forth and the battle. ... Big shot after big shot from both sides, really."
With 11.3 seconds remaining, Seattle had opened up a four-point lead after Jewell Loyd made a pair of free throws. The Aces answered almost immediately with a 3-pointer from Riquna Williams and had a chance to go ahead after Tina Charles missed two free throws on the Storm's subsequent possession.
A'ja Wilson took full advantage with a spinning basket in the paint that gave Las Vegas a 90-89 advantage with 2.9 seconds remaining. Now it was Seattle's time to answer with Sue Bird, playing her final season after announcing her retirement, making what looked like the game-winning 3-pointer from the corner inside the final second of play.
Instead, the Aces forced overtime with Jackie Young scoring at the buzzer.
"I think that this was probably the game where there were so many back-and-forths -- oh they're going to win it, oh no they're going to win it, now we're going to overtime," Las Vegas guard Chelsea Gray said. "That's what playoff basketball is all about. It felt pretty good."
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, there had never before been a case of WNBA teams making three go-ahead or game-tying shots in the final three seconds of regulation during a playoff game. It hasn't happened in an NBA playoff game in at least the past 25 postseasons.
The shocking finish to the fourth quarter convinced the Aces they had the edge entering the extra session, something Storm players and coaches conceded probably had an effect.
"We said in the huddle that the momentum is on our side right now," Gray said. "That was deflating to the home team that we've got to go into overtime. We came out locked in for those five minutes."
Nobody was more locked in than Gray, who outscored Seattle 8-6 all by herself in overtime. The Aces' 18 points were the most ever in a playoff OT.
Both Gray (29 points) and Wilson (34) recorded new career highs for playoff scoring -- Wilson surpassing her 33 points in Game 2 of the series on Wednesday. Their 63 combined points were the second most by WNBA teammates in a playoff game, trailing the 65 totaled by Breanna Stewart and Jewell Loyd against Las Vegas in Game 1 of the 2020 WNBA Finals.
Adding in Gray's 12 assists, she was responsible for creating 59 of the Aces' 110 points, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. Wilson, who played all 45 minutes, contributed 11 rebounds for her second consecutive 30-10 playoff game, tying Candace Parker for the most in WNBA postseason history.
While Las Vegas moved a win away from returning to the WNBA Finals for the second time in three years, the Storm were left lamenting missed opportunities.
"We were up four with not a lot of time left and that's really to me [was] where we lost the game," Bird said. "Letting them take the lead -- they probably scored five points in three seconds? That, to me, is where we really let this one go. I understand the last plays are going to stick out because they're dramatic and exciting and I'm sure it was great TV, but we were up four."
"We had the game, and we gave it to them," echoed teammate Stewart.
Seattle finished the fourth quarter with a foul to give and was unable to utilize it. Bird said the team discussed potentially fouling on the Aces' final inbound play, which started with 0.8 seconds on the clock, but the pass going directly to Young in the shooting motion made that impossible without risking a three-point play that could have allowed Las Vegas to win in regulation.
"She made the basket," Bird said. "There wasn't any magic that happened."
Storm coach Noelle Quinn also said afterward that Wilson traveled on her go-ahead score in the final seconds, which would have given Seattle the ball back with a one-point lead if called.
It wasn't, and the Aces ended up on top in a game memorable for both the dramatic outcome and the caliber of play.
"That was just really high-level basketball," Hammon said. "Both sides."