Professional Basketball

Aces Down Sun, Win WNBA Championship

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The Las Vegas Aces, powered by 20 points from guard Chelsea Gray, closed out the Connecticut Sun 78-71 in Game 4 of the best-of-five series to be crowned the 2022 WNBA Champions. The visiting Aces used an 8-0 run in the final two minutes to secure their first ever championship on Sunday in front of a sellout crowd of 9,652 at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn.

Las Vegas Aces players A’ja Wilson and Kelsey Plum kiss the championship trophy after winning Game 4 of the 2022 WNBA Finals on Sunday night. Photo by James Garman/Sportspage Magazine.

“You know, first thing I want to say is congratulations to Las Vegas, and certainly Becky [Hammon]. We have a long, long relationship, and I know we had a lot of fun competing against each other in these Finals,” said Sun head coach Curt Miller. “Incredibly proud of our team and our resilience and our fight. It was a grind out there, both teams playing so hard, both teams playing so well in stretches defensively, and just incredibly proud of our effort. And we put ourselves in position to win and it became a chess match down the stretch with our big lineup versus their small lineup and they finished on an 8-0 run to end the game. It was a great game and great for our league.”

The game opened with a quick 4-0 run by the home team with an eight-foot bank shot by forward DeWanna Bonner, and then a cutting finger roll layup by forward Alyssa Thomas, in the game’s first minute. The Aces responded with a 16-foot jumper from forward A’ja Wilson with 8:39 remaining in the opening frame which sparked a 16-2 run. Despite a ten-point deficit, the Sun gained six of those points back in the last 2:41 of the quarter. Las Vegas led 16-12 after the first quarter.

Just 47 seconds into the second quarter, Connecticut guard Courtney Williams picked off a bad pass by Aces guard Kelsey Plum and then hit a three-pointer to cut the Sun deficit to a single point, 16-15 with 9:13 left in the half.

The Aces pushed a 9-0 run in the second quarter to a 25-15 lead with 6:28 remaining in the half, but that still wasn’t enough to put the home team away. Connecticut went on a 10-0 run of their own to tie the game on a running layup by Bonner with 1:21 remaining. The Aces took a 30-28 lead at the half.

Las Vegas Aces forward Jackie Young blocks a shot by Connecticut Sun guard Natisha Hiedeman during Sunday’s WNBA Finals Game 4. Photo by James Garman/Sportspage Magazine.

The game was tied three times in the early minutes of the third quarter but each time the Aces pulled out with a slight lead. Connecticut center Jonquel Jones scored on a reverse layup with 6:17 left in the third to give the Sun a 39-37 lead, their first since the opening minute of the game.

The lead was short lived. Gray scored a driving layup two minutes later after the officials time out to go ahead 43-42. Las Vegas pushed the lead up to five and finished the quarter leading 53-49.

In the fourth quarter, both teams traded baskets and short runs. Las Vegas went up by as much as six, and then Connecticut cut the lead back to one. Then with 1:50 left in regulation, they were tied, 70-70 on Sun center Brionna Jones first of two free throws. When she connected on her second free shot, the Sun had a one-point lead, which would be their last of the night. The Aces closed out the game with an 8-0 run and earned their first WNBA championship.

“Obviously super proud of the group. It was a battle. We knew it wasn’t going to be easy. It’s never easy to close a game in a regular season, let alone in a championship game on somebody else’s home court,” said Aces head coach Becky Hammon. “So just really happy for the girls overall. They stayed focused. This has been the goal since training camp. Luckily I got a group of really resilient players and you know, I said it out there but probably the biggest thing I’m proud of is just how they have come together over the course of the past five, six months to really become a team. And you saw different people step up at different moments tonight and that’s what makes us difficult to beat.”

The Aces were led by Gray’s 20 points, along with 17 from Riquna Williams; 15 from Kelsey Plum; 13 from forward Jackie Young and A’ja Wilson’s 11. Las Vegas shot 29-for-64 for 45.3 percent and 10-for-26 from beyond the arc. Wilson’s 14 rebounds led all rebounders.

“This is amazing. I say all the time, I wouldn’t be where I am today without my teammates. But winning a championship is something that no one can ever take from you and once you got that down, you are in the books forever,” said Wilson.

Connecticut Sun forward DeWanna Bonner attempts a layup over the outstretched arms of Las Vegas Aces forward Jackie Young during Sunday’s WNBA Finals Game 4. Photo by James Garman/Sportspage Magazine.

For Connecticut, Courtney Williams led her team with 17 points; Jonquel Jones added 13, DeWonna Bonner had 12; and forward Alyssa Thomas and Brionna Jones each pitched in with 11. The Sun went 26-for-63 shooting for 41.3 percent and 6-for-13 in three-pointers. Alyssa Thomas led her team in rebounding with 10.

“This team has heart. This team has a lot of pride. This team, everybody has made sacrifices for us to be able to be back here. There’s a lot of selflessness and a lot of sacrifices to be able to have this team back together and make this run,” said Jonquel Jones. “You know, while it’s tough and it’s disappointing, we get to say that we were one of the last two teams standing and playing for a championship. So I’ve got a lot of pride and a lot of joy with the moments that I’ve had with this team and have the ladies that have been ready to play with every night.”

Alyssa Thomas tallied her second-straight triple-double with 11 points, 10 rebounds, 11 assists, two steals and two blocks. She is the first player in league history to notch two triple-doubles in postseason play.

“Alyssa was terrific and a warrior through this whole series and at times tried to put us on her back,” said Miller.

Chelsea Gray was named the 2022 WNBA Finals most valuable player.

“It’s been great from start to finish,” said Gray regarding Hammon, her head coach. “She demands excellence from us each and every day. It’s fun to do that with somebody that you know has your back and she’s instilled that into us each moment, and so it’s fun to raise that banner with her.”

Las Vegas Aces guard Chelsea Gray shoots over the outstretched arms of Connecticut Sun guard Natisha Hiedeman during Sunday’s WNBA Finals Game 4. Gray was named the Finals MVP. Photo by James Garman/Sportspage Magazine.

The Aces won their first championship in their 915th game, including playoff appearances, dating back to 1997 when they were established as one of the league’s first eight franchises as the Utah Starzz. They played in Utah for six seasons until they relocated to San Antonio before the 2003 season. They spent the first 11 seasons as the San Antonio Silver Stars before becoming the San Antonio Stars for their last four seasons in Texas. They relocated to Las Vegas and became the Aces before the 2018 season.

As a player, Hammon appeared in 779 regular season games and 100 playoff games during her sixteen year career. Her first eight seasons were with the New York Liberty (1999-2006) and the last eight seasons were for the San Antonio Stars (2007-2014). Hammon played in four WNBA Finals series, three with New York and one with San Antonio, but had not won a championship in either of those tries. Now she has found success but in a different role, as the head coach of a team she used to play for.

“So in Vegas, we are trying to build a culture that players want to come and take part in something special, something bigger than themselves,” said Hammon. “So it’s a little surreal. Maybe you can call me back in like a week when it sinks in.”

Someone who is finding this all surreal is A’ja Wilson. Considering this is the first championship of any kind for the City of Las Vegas, she anticipates having a good time at the upcoming championship parade.

“We going crazy. Because I don’t think people understand how important this really is. This is huge,” said Wilson. “So Vegas, turn up, I saw cops with our logo on the car, y’all better lace up because we about to go crazy. Tuesday, 5:30 PM Pacific time, be there or be square.”

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