Fifty-point games in the N.B.A. can almost be ho-hum: There were 25 last season alone, and they are increasing in frequency. But in the W.N.B.A., they are nearly unheard-of.
A’ja Wilson of the Las Vegas Aces didn’t just score 50 on Tuesday night in Atlanta; she made four free throws in the last minute to reach 53, tying the league record.
Wilson’s is just the third 50-point game in W.N.B.A. history, following a 53-point game by Liz Cambage of the Dallas Wings in 2018 and a 51-point game by Riquna Williams of the Tulsa Shock in 2013.
There have been only 33 games in which a player has scored 40 points or more in the league’s history, which dates to 1997. But as in the N.B.A., the trend line is upward. A third of those games have come this season.
After her heroic individual effort, Wilson chose to spread the credit. “I didn’t do this alone,” she said. “My teammates get all the glory because without them I don’t even get the basketball.” Chelsea Gray had 12 assists, and Kelsey Plum had seven for the Aces.
Wilson, a 6-foot-4 forward, shot 16 for 23 from the floor with one 3-pointer and made 20 of 21 free throws. Defensively, she found time to record a game-high four blocks. The Aces defeated the host Atlanta Dream, 112-100.
When it comes to putting up high-scoring totals, N.B.A. players have the distinct advantage of playing 48-minute games, rather than the 40-minute games of the W.N.B.A.
N.B.A. teams also score more efficiently, averaging 114.8 points per 100 possessions last season, compared with 103.8 in the W.N.B.A. this season. (Or looking at it another way, W.N.B.A. players are more efficient defensively.) And N.B.A. teams also play at a slightly faster pace, averaging 2.06 possessions per minute compared with 1.98 in the W.N.B.A.
That all adds up to higher scoring games: 114.7 points per team in the N.B.A. versus 82.5 in the W.N.B.A. in the most recent seasons.
Looking at it that way, Wilson’s 53 points amounted to 64 percent of an average W.N.B.A. team’s point total. The equivalent percentage in the N.B.A. would be a 73-point game, something that has happened only six times in N.B.A. history and only once in the years since the W.N.B.A. was founded.
The game was an outlier even for Wilson, a two-time league M.V.P. and an Olympic gold medalist in Tokyo. Her previous career high, 11 days before, was 40 points, and she has only 10 games of 30 points or more in her six-year career.
Wilson also has the advantage of playing for the Aces, the league’s best team, with a gaudy 29-4 record, and the defending league champions. If they could win all of their remaining seven games, their 36-4 mark and .900 winning percentage would match the record set by the 1998 Houston Comets, who were 27-3 in a shorter season.