Kahleah Copper scores 37 points to lead Mercury past Aces

LAS VEGAS — Phoenix’s Kahleah Copper became just the second player in WNBA history to have back-to-back games of 35-plus points as the Mercury handed two-time defending champion Las Vegas a rare home loss.

The Mercury won 98-88 Tuesday at Michelob Ultra Arena, where the Aces lost just twice last year. The first was Aug. 15 in the Commissioner’s Cup final to the New York Liberty, followed by a regular-season defeat Aug. 19 to the Los Angeles Sparks. Still, the Aces went on to win their second straight WNBA championship.

Both teams Tuesday were without key players who have yet to play this season due to injuries: Las Vegas point guard Chelsea Gray (foot) and Phoenix center Brittney Griner (toe).

Copper ended up the star of the show.

She had 37 points against the Aces, making 15 of 23 shots from the field, to follow up her career-best 38-point performance in a win over Atlanta on Saturday.

Copper joined Liz Cambage as the only WNBA players to score 35-plus in back-to-back WNBA games. Cambage did so for Dallas in 2018, when she had 53 points on July 17 and 35 on July 19.

The 2021 WNBA Finals MVP, Copper averaged a career-high 18.7 PPG last season for Chicago. She signed a contract extension last September with the Sky, but as the franchise went more into rebuild mode in the offseason, Copper was traded to Phoenix in February.

“I think I was just put in the perfect position,” Copper said of how she filled an obvious need at the wing spot for Phoenix. “My offseason was big. I took pride in being a three-level scorer, but I wanted to be more consistent. Seeing this roster, and understanding this was who I wanted to play with … It’s like we’ve been together forever.”

The Mercury finished last in the WNBA in 2023 at 9-31. But big roster moves were made, including the trade for Copper and the free agent signing of Natasha Cloud, both of whom have won WNBA championships with other franchises. Coach Nate Tibbetts was brought in to take over the Mercury (2-1).

“Credit to the group continuing to believe, not hanging their head when BG went down,” Tibbetts said. “I think the team feels [Copper] is the hot player now — she’s getting downhill, she’s being extremely aggressive.”

Las Vegas beat Phoenix 89-80 on May 14 in the season opener, then defeated Los Angeles 89-82 Saturday. But coach Becky Hammon hasn’t been happy with the Aces’ defense in any of their three games.

“We haven’t been playing well, so it’s this false sense of being good,” Hammon said. “So hopefully it gets our attention. We didn’t deserve to win the game.”

Next up for the Aces is the Indiana Fever, as No. 1 draft pick Caitlin Clark will make her first trip to Las Vegas. The Fever and Aces meet Saturday at 9 p.m. ET on NBA TV.

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