By Dorothy J. Gentry
After they finished an on-court interview immediately after their 107-102 victory over the visiting Las Vegas Aces, Skylar Diggins-Smith lept into the arms of Liz Cambage and buried her head into Cambage’s shoulder, sobbing.
Cambage held on to her teammate just as tight, crying as well.
In the background of this embrace was a banner showing the team slogan; Rise Together.
That moment summed up the flood of emotions felt as the Dallas Wings – coming off a tumultuous 9-game losing streak and a week in which Head Coach Fred Williams was fired – secured the final spot in the 2018 WNBA Playoffs.
“This is all I wanted for my birthday, to make my first WNBA playoffs,” said a smiling Cambage afterward in the locker room while surrounded by Happy Birthday balloons. “Thank y’all, thank you,” she said turning to her teammates.
“I’m just happy we got the win. We’ve been dying for a win. We were hungry. We were thirsty out there and we finally got what we needed,” Cambage continued. “We made it hard for ourselves, losing 9 in a row, but we went out tonight and we left it all out there. Really proud of my team tonight.”
Diggins-Smith said she appreciated the support of the fans and was thrilled with the victory.
“It’s been a lot of emotions that we’ve been through these pastfew weeks; especially over this past week with that road trip,” Diggins-Smiths said, referencing the 3-game road trip, all losses, that culminated in Williams’ firing. “All the emotions and the ups and downs, you still have to be a leader. We got great leadership from Karima (Christmas-Kelley) from the bench. It was a matter of all of us staying together and trying to keep our head above water and not getting too high or too low.
“We believe in each other,” Diggins-Smith continued. We haven’t had our whole team available for one game this season and we’ve had multiple games were we had nine players available,” she said. “Just going through that adversity has been tough. But all that matters to us, all year, our goal was to make the playoffs. Pressure builds diamonds. It was great that we were able to overcome.”
With the victory, the Wings (15-18) clinched their second consecutive playoff spot and played their final home game of the season, finishing with a 10-7 overall record at home. They still have a final game, closing out the season on the road Sunday to the League-leading Seattle Storm (25-8).
It was the Wings’ first win since July 19th. The team was in the midst of a mind-boggling 9-game losing streak and, addinginsult to injury, the team traded forward Aerial Powers to the Washington Mystics and then fired Williams.
Assistant coach Taj McWilliams-Franklin took over as the interim head coach and earned her first career victory as head coach.
“I’m never enthralled with that. We all work together,” McWilliams-Franklin said. “When I was an assistant coach last year and we made the playoffs, I was just as excited.”
But it all worked out in the end and now the Wings are laserfocused on making it past the first round of the playoffs. They were ousted after one game by the Mystics last year. As the 8thseed in the playoffs, the team will face whoever finishes the season with the fifth seed, which the LA Sparks currently hold. The Wings won the season series with the Sparks, 2-1.
How They Did It
Behind the backdrop of “win and in,” identical records (14-18) and a trip to the playoffs on the line, both the Wings and the Aces’ collective backs were against the wall. The Aces seemed to have the momentum over the Wings after they recorded their ninth consecutive loss.
Both teams battled in the paint in the first quarter, scoring a combined 22 points inside but the Aces outpaced the Wings, winning the quarter 27-21.
Both offenses awoke and scored 30 points in the second quarter, with the Aces taking a six-point lead into the half, 57-51. Third quarter Wings showed up as reigning WNBA Rookie-of-the-Year Allisha Gray hit a 3 followed by a 3 from rookie forward Azura Stevens and the Wings found themselves in the midst of a 10-4 run that tied the game, 61-61.
Trading baskets ensued for the remainder of the quarter and Dallas finished on top by 2, 83-81. A fourth-quarter three by Cambage immediately followed by a break-away layup from Kayla Thornton gave Dallas a 94-88 advantage with 5:52 to go, prompting a Las Vegas timeout. The Wings kept the lead the rest of the way, finishing with a 107-102 win that secured the eighth and final playoff spot. A’ja Wilson led five Aces in double figures with 34 points.
The Wings ended the night with 42 rebounds, recording 40-plusboards for the 11th time this season. Inside the paint the Wings led the Aces 48-38 and are 12-8 when outscoring opponents in the paint.
Cambage led all scorers with 43 points to go with 13 rebounds. The 43 scored is her highest total since she recorded a WNBA-record 53 vs New York on July 17.
She also recorded her fifth 40-plus point game of the season. This is the 20th game this season she has led the team in scoring. She made history once again, becoming the first player in franchise player and 15th in the WNBA to record a 700-point plus season. Cambage entered the game with 683 total points and ended the night with a total of 726 to go above Breanna Stewart who currently has 705.
Diggins-Smith also recorded double figures for the night for the 22nd game this season with 23 points. She had eight assists to lead the Wings for the 27th game this season. Combined, the dynamic duo of Cambage and Diggins-Smith had 66 points. It was two points more than the 64 points they scored on July 17 against New York.
Glory Johnson also recorded double digits with 11 points. Thornton recorded her 19th double figure game of the season with 10 points. She was injured during the fourth quarter. No word on her condition to Wings PR confirmed today that she will travel with the team to Seattle.
The 2017-18 WNBA season ends Sunday. Playoffs begin on Tuesday Aug. 21st.