Las Vegas’ Angel McCoughtry has played in plenty of big games in her career. The two-time Olympian won a pair of gold medals with the United States (2012, 2016) and helped the Americans win two world championships in 2010 and 2014.
She once scored 38 points in a WNBA finals game against Minnesota in 2011 and dropped 42 in a WNBA playoff game against New York in 2010.
Her role with the Aces this season was to provide a spark off the bench. She had played just one of the last three WNBA seasons and missed the entire 2019 campaign after injuring her knee at the end of the 2018 season.
But with Dearica Hamby out for the series with a torn ligament in her knee, the 34-year-old veteran knew she would see additional minutes. McCoughtry scored 16 of her game-high 29 points in the third quarter Sunday to lead the Aces to an 84-75 victory over the Connecticut Sun in game 4 of this WNBA semifinal at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida.
The win tied the best-of-5 series at 2-2 and forces a decisive game five on Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m. on ESPN2 for a berth in the WNBA finals.
Connecticut led by as many as seven points in the second quarter before McCoughtry helped Las Vegas cut the lead to one at halftime, 38-37.
In the third quarter, McCoughtry was on fire. She scored 16 points and was 7-of-7 from the field with one three-pointer. It was the break that Las Vegas needed to clog up the lane and force the Sun to shoot from the outside where they struggled.
Jasmine Thomas had a team-high 25 points for the Sun but Connecticut needed more than that. Briann January had several open looks but had a tough day shooting the ball, scoring just nine points. She was 4-of-16 from the field.
Alyssa Thomas, still sore from her separated shoulder earlier this week, had another noble effort with 15 points, eight rebounds and three assists. DeWanna Bonner had just 10 points – all in the first half while Brionna Jones was limited to seven shots in the lane and 10 points overall.
“They did a real good job congesting the paint (lane),” Sun head coach and general manager Curt Miller said. “That has been the story of the series for both of us.”
The team with the advantage scoring in the paint has won all four games. Las Vegas outscored the Sun in the paint, 46-20 on Sunday. In game three, Connecticut dominated in the paint, outscoring the Aces, 52-26.
McCoughtry helped team wrest control of the game from Connecticut.
“It’s one of those things where you have to find the fun in it,” McCoughtry said. She reached out to Washington’s Ella Della Donne for a little advice before the game. “It was great to hear from people who have been in this position and been successful,” McCoughtry said.
At halftime, McCoughtry caught a glimpse of Seattle’s Sue Bird – the two-time WNBA champion – who was heading back to her locker room after warming up for the Storm’s upcoming game with Minnesota.
McCoughtry called out to her and raced up to her. “I said, Hey Sue Bird, let me hold your hands and give me a little bit of that power,” McCoughtry said with a big smile. “I got the Sue Bird power. I hope she doesn’t want it back.”
McCoughtry chuckled when sharing that story. In an elimination game for her team, she was looking for a little fun to relax her in that moment.
“I just wanted to go out and enjoy the moment and enjoy the game,” said McCoughtry, who played a season-high 33 minutes.
Aces head coach Bill Laimbeer certainly enjoyed it. “That was fun to watch. It was a spectacular performance,” he said.
Laimbeer said after game three that someone else would have to step up and help league MVP A’ja Wilson with the scoring load. Wilson scored 18 points and brought down a team-high 13 rebounds for Las Vegas while Danielle Robinson slashed her way to the basket with her speed for 18 points. Kayla McBride added 11.
“That’s Angel. That is who she is. That is why she is an Olympian and that is why she is so good as what she does,” Wilson said. “She can turn it on and turn it off. She was all over the ball on both ends of the court. It gets us going.”
The Sun will have one more chance to advance to the WNBA finals on Tuesday night.
“We knew this series wouldn’t be easy. We knew closing out the series wouldn’t be easy. They brought out their stars – A’ja and Angel,” Miller said. “But we’re not going to lose our swagger. We’re going to come in with fight and energy. Our calling card is our defense and we have to have a great night defensively.”
The Sun have already won a pair of elimination games in this year’s WNBA playoffs with wins over Chicago and Los Angeles in the first and second round.
Connecticut vs. Las Vegas
Sunday, September 20
Connecticut 87, Las Vegas 62
Tuesday, September 22
Las Vegas 83, Connecticut 75
Thursday, September 24
Connecticut 77, Las Vegas 68
Sunday, September 27
Las Vegas 84, Connecticut 75, series tied 2-2
Tuesday, September 29
Game 5: Connecticut vs. Las Vegas, 7:30 p.m., ESPN2