WASHINGTON -- Las Vegas Aces coach Bill Laimbeer is hard to miss at 6-foot-11 with a booming voice that with its deep timber can level anyone standing within 100 feet.
But as his underdog team pushed the ball up court in the frantic closing seconds of Tuesday’s WNBA semifinal game against the Mystics, Laimbeer might as well have been an invisible ghost.
With Washington ahead 97-95, an Elena Delle Donne miss with 4.5 seconds to play gave the Aces a chance. Laimbeer wanted a timeout to set a play. He didn’t get it. He screamed again. No whistle. Maybe the roaring crowd at the Entertainment and Sports Arena drowned out Laimbeer's furious pleading. Whatever the case, referee Tiara Cruse didn’t grant it and Kelsey Plum’s rushed floater at the buzzer missed.
The favored Mystics, the top seed in the WNBA playoffs after a 26-8 regular season, held on for a win on a night when they were admittedly far from their best. The Aces were left pondering what might have been if they could have just set up a final a play. Washington took a 1-0 lead in the best-of-five series with Game 2 set for Thursday in the District.
“I was right standing next to the referee by design. As soon as they missed a shot I was going to be yelling “Timeout! Timeout! Timeout!”,” Laimbeer said. “They missed the shot, we got the rebound. I yelled it five times and she even looked at me when I was yelling and made a conscious decision not to call a timeout.”
Laimbeer said he expected an investigation of some sort by the WNBA. He wasn’t as concerned with the non-call on Plum at the end. That’s a bang-bang play that could go either way and referees are reluctant to whistle anyway. But he also said the ESPN television broadcast will show without a doubt that he requested a timeout. It was a tough way to lose.
“It’s unfortunate,” Laimbeer said. “It didn’t cost us the game. But it cost us a good shot.”
Even Mystics players like guard Kristi Toliver admitted they heard the timeout call and were surprised play wasn’t stopped. Las Vegas' players were thinking more about the possessions before the final one when they had chances to tie a game they played well enough to win.
“I think it really just started not even with the non-foul call, but with us not calling a timeout and being aware in that situation,” Aces forward A’ja Wilson said. “It really just comes to that it wasn’t just that. It was the plays and the turnovers that we had and the rebounds that we missed all added up to that. We can’t really fault the refs. It really comes from us.”
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