Skip to Content

A’ja Wilson Is Everywhere

A'ja Wilson #22 of the Las Vegas Aces reacts to a play in the third quarter of Game One of the 2023 WNBA Playoffs semifinals against the Dallas Wings at Michelob ULTRA Arena on September 24, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Aces defeated the Wings 97-83.
Candice Ward/Getty Images

A'ja Wilson's teammates couldn't believe it, when she flew across the court to deflect a pass and ended up tumbling through three rows of seats. The Aces were up 17 on the Wings with less than a minute left in the fourth quarter. Which is to say, Wilson's hustle play had no bearing on the outcome of the game, and only served to generate this perfect tableau of reactions: Chelsea Gray snapping at Wilson to go sit on the bench; a horrified Jackie Young putting her hands on her head; Becky Hammon massaging her temples, like she had a migraine. As the clock wound down on Game 1 of the Wings-Aces semifinals series, Wilson tried high-fiving Candace Parker and Parker jokingly rebuffed her. "No, I'm not giving you a high five," she said, wagging her finger.

But they know better than anyone else that there is no dialed-back version of A'ja Wilson. She will do everything all the time until there is no time left. And if you asked them once they'd had time to recover from the sight of their superstar teammate launching herself into a bunch of metal folding chairs, they'd surely admit they were glad for her hustle.

The Wings account for one of Vegas's six regular-season losses, and much like the Liberty (who account for two), they can challenge the Aces with both scoring punch and size. Dallas's frontcourt rotation features 6-foot-7 Teaira McCowan, 6-foot-4 Satou Sabally, 6-foot-2 Natasha Howard, 6-foot-8 Awak Kuier and 6-foot-7 Kalani Brown. That matchup against the best rebounding team in the league would seem like bad news for Wilson, who hasn't had much in the way of frontcourt offensive help since Parker was sidelined with a foot injury before the All-Star break. And still, she picked Dallas's bigs apart, punishing their slow speed in transition and with her quicker first step in the halfcourt. Her 34-point performance on 15-of-19 shooting tied a WNBA record for field goals made in a playoff game. In the third quarter—motivated, the players said afterward, by a stern halftime speech from Hammon—Wilson outscored the Wings herself, 14 to 12. That was the game. From there, the Aces cruised, turning what had been a four-point lead at halftime into a 97-83 blowout.

Wilson also validated the Defensive Player of the Year Award she received pregame on Sunday, with four blocks, two steals and eight rebounds. In an in-game interview segment, she told ESPN she played defense simply as a means to get back on offense, but there was nothing impure or half-hearted about her defensive performance, which made Dallas just look lethargic by comparison. If she hadn't straight up said it, you wouldn't know which side of the ball she likes playing more.

Wilson's MVP case is easy to argue against. She enjoys a more talented supporting cast than, say, Connecticut's Alyssa Thomas, another MVP favorite. Wilson might even argue against it herself: She insisted on accepting the DPOY award with Kiah Stokes, the team's starting center in Parker's absence, and she told reporters she thought Jackie Young had been snubbed from the All-Defensive team. Wilson's MVP case is easy to argue against ... until you watch that kind of A'ja Wilson game, a two-way clinic, and can't imagine anyone playing better or more valuable basketball.

The Aces' lopsided scores and historic record might conceal just how much they've asked of Wilson this year. She's shouldering a greater defensive workload than she expected entering the season, and with little depth, her team relies on her astonishing endurance. "From the tip to the buzzer, she’s going to be flying everywhere and being active,” said Kelsey Plum after the game. “That’s just who she is."

Already a user?Log in

Welcome to Defector!

Sign up to read another couple free blogs.

Or, click here to subscribe!

If you liked this blog, please share it! Your referrals help Defector reach new readers, and those new readers always get a few free blogs before encountering our paywall.

Stay in touch

Sign up for our free newsletter