Las Vegas Aces claim 1st championship in franchise history behind Chelsea Gray, Riquna Williams clutch buckets late
It was exactly how you'd imagine a Las Vegas professional sports championship would play out.
The point gawd's Finals MVP performance. A team filled with swagger. And a postgame news conference with jubilation and alcohol. Oh, and a plea to show up to the championship parade "four shots deep."
There were firsts. There is a long list of accolades. But the only one that matters is this: The Las Vegas Aces are champs.
The Aces became the first professional sports franchise in the city's history to win a championship. They also won the first WNBA title in their franchise's history.
After seasons filled with downs leading to three straight No. 1 overall draft picks to a surprise coaching change before this season, the Aces finally put the pieces together and became the third WNBA team in four seasons to win its first trophy.
Chelsea Gray came up clutch time and again, earning Finals MVP after being snubbed from the All-Star and All-WNBA selections this season. Gray finished with game-high 20 points and six assists in a 78-71 win over the Connecticut Sun in Game 4 of the WNBA Finals at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut, on Sunday.
As the Aces went small to close out the game, Riquna Williams hit a series of big shots late in the fourth quarter. She hit back-to-back 3-pointers with under two minutes to play, then gave Las Vegas a four-point lead on a step-back jumper with under a minute to go, forcing the Sun to call timeout. Kelsey Plum finished it off with a jumper in the lane as the Aces ended the game on an 8-0 run.
Williams finished with 17 points, while Plum had 16.
The Sun made it ugly throughout. It was Connecticut basketball through and through, from the messy nature to the physicality. The game was competitive throughout with neither team able to grab a hold, even in the final minutes with the game tied at 67-67 with 2:44 to go.
The league MVP and Defensive Player of the Year A’ja Wilson added 11 points and 14 rebounds as she played all 40 minutes of the clincher, although she did not have a field-goal attempt in the fourth quarter.
"I think we found ourselves in this league where everyone has their standard of how they've won, and we are creating that. Our journey is just beginning, and it's been amazing so far," Wilson said.
The Aces racked up regular season awards: Wilson's MVP and DPOY; Becky Hammon's Coach of the Year; Jackie Young's Most Improved Player; Wilson and Plum earned All-WNBA first team nods. The Aces won the Commissioner's Cup in July, with Gray as the game's MVP. They earned the No. 1 seed in the postseason.
All of it seemed to be leading to Sunday afternoon.
Along with it being the first title in franchise history, it is also the first time a rookie head coach (Hammon) has won a title in their first season since the league’s inaugural season.
The Aces were unstoppable, pushing the tempo of every game they played even when teams, like the Sun, tried to slow them down. In the regular season, they averaged a league-leading 90.4 ppg, led the league in offensive rating (109.6) and tied with the Storm for the league's best 3-point field-goal percentage (36.1).
"When I took the job in December, I thought when I started kind of breaking down their rosters that I could do something with it. I had a vision of what I wanted to do with this team," Hammon said. "You know, even when it got a little rocky, we stuck to it. We hit a kind of stay-down-in-the-dirt-or-get-up moment right after All-Star. As usual, they chose to stand up. We have tremendous leadership in that locker room. We have tremendous professionals, but I'll say it again, they are tremendous people."
The Sun's Alyssa Thomas had her second straight triple-double with 11 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists. She is the only player in WNBA Finals history to record a triple-double. Courtney Williams led the Sun with 17 points, and Jonquel Jones, the 2021 MVP, had 13 point and eight rebounds.
"Nobody expected us to be here, first and foremost," Thomas said. "They thought we would lose to Chicago and Dallas, and despite all that, we made it to the Finals. Unfortunately, it didn't go the way we wanted it to. We had fun. We played our basketball, and we stuck together all year."