Posts Tagged ‘2022 WNBA Championship Finals’

Chelsea Gray scored 20 points to lead the Las Vegas Aces to their first WNBA title in a 78-71 road win over the Connecticut Sun in Game 4 on Sunday.

Gray went 9-of-13 from the floor and was named MVP after averaging 18 points over the run. The Aces improved to 4-0 in this year’s playoffs with two days rest.

Riquana Williams added 17 points Kelsey Plum added 16 points for the Aces, Jackie Young had 13, and league MVP A’ja Wilson added 11 points to go with 14 rebounds.

Vegas finished on an 8-0 run. As the buzzer sounded Wilson grabbed the ball and stomped the floor before being mobbed by her teammates.

We champs! We champs! We champs!” Wilson screamed at teammates as they pulled on their championship hats and T-shirts before the trophy ceremony.

It’s the first major pro sports title for a team from Las Vegas, and Wilson surely hopes this is just the beginning.

“You see it. You see it,” Wilson said in the on-court celebration. “This is what we’re building. This is what we’re doing. This is it. I’m so happy right now.”

Courtney Williams had 17 points to lead Connecticut and Alyssa Thomas had her second straight triple-double with 11 points, 11 assists, and 10 rebounds. Jonquel Jones added 13 points and DeWanna Bonner had 12.

Las Vegas led by two points at the half and four points after three quarters.

For Aces coach Becky Hammon, who didn’t get a title in her standout WNBA career, the ring completed a decades-long quest. She left an assistant coach position with Gregg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs to take over in Las Vegas, and the move paid off.

“They’re unbelievable on the court but they’re unbelievable humans, first and foremost,” Hammon said. “They care about each other. They invest in each other. It’s been an absolute honor to be their coach. I saw excellence and I wanted to be a part of it.”

Hammon also paid tribute to former Aces coach Bill Laimbeer, who was on the floor for the ceremony. “He put this team together and saw the pieces,” Hammon said.

Aces owner Mark Davis, who also owns the NFL’s Las Vegas Raiders, wasn’t with his football team Sunday. He was in Connecticut to get a trophy. He hoisted it, then turned it over to gleeful players who did the same.

“Las Vegas, we are world champions,” Davis said.

It was a six-point lead in the fourth when Kelsey Plum was called for a flagrant foul after running into Bonner while the Sun guard was attempting a 3-pointer and sending her to the floor holding her right ankle. Bonner hit all three free throws before Jonquel Jones’ short jumper cut the lead to a point. The Sun then tied the game at 67 on a free throw by Courtney Williams and took a 71-70 lead on two foul shots from Brionna Jones.

But Las Vegas had the answers.

Riquana Williams’ 3-pointer put the Aces back on top and Chelsea Gray’s step-back jumper extended the lead back to 75-71 with under a minute left A’Ja Wilson then stole a pass and Plum hit a short jump shot to secure the win.

Bonner opened the scoring with a leaner from the left wing. But Kelsey Plum’s 3-pointer from the left baseline sparked an early 12-0 run for Vegas that shot them out to a 16-6 lead. The Aces, who gave up 34 points to the Sun in the first quarter of Game 3, led 16-12 after 10 minutes on Sunday.

Gray — who overcame some serious injuries that threatened to sidetrack her career in the past — was WNBA Finals MVP, to no one’s surprise after averaging 18.3 points and 6 assists in the series.

“My teammates are awesome,” Gray said as she broke into tears. “I worked so hard for this.”

She wasn’t a WNBA All-Star this season, nor was she a first-team all-league pick, and voiced her displeasure about that.

In the end, she also got the last word.

“They can keep that All-Star and first team,” Gray said. “I got the ring.”

SCRAPPY GAME

As expected, it was a physical game appropriately played on an NFL Sunday. The Sun got a scare when Bonner took an inadvertent elbow to the gut from Gray late in the first quarter and was on the floor for a few minutes before being helped to the bench. She came back into the game later in the half, apparently suffering no ill effects. Natisha Hiedeman and Plum got into a short pushing match in the second quarter, eliciting technical fouls on both players. That was all before Plum’s flagrant in the fourth.

INCLUSIVE ORGANIZATIONS

Before the game, both coaches reflected on the makeup of organizations in the Final. The Aces are led by Hammon and two Black women executives in general manager Nikki Williams and Nikki Fargas, president of business operations. The Sun are owned by the Mohegan Tribe, have a woman president in Jen Rizzotti, and are coached by Curt Miller, a gay man.

“Women’s basketball is such a story in terms of diversity and inclusion. I mean, our league defines it, and I’m so proud to be a part of it, Miller said, adding that he hopes to be an inspiration to any gay child “wondering if they can chase a career in sports.”

Hammon said she believes the diversity in her team’s front office has made it stronger

“You can make a lot better picture with a box full of crayons than just a pencil,” she said.

RAIDERS’ SUPPORT

The start of the celebration was shown on the video screens at the Raiders’ stadium during the NFL game against Arizona on Sunday, with fans breaking into loud cheers. They can cheer more in a few days: a parade on the Las Vegas Strip is planned for Thursday evening.

“What a team, what talent, what a victory! You have made Las Vegas so proud!” Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman said in a statement. “Thank you for your effort, discipline & focus. We can’t wait for the celebrations & a great parade!”

TIP-INS

The Aces are the fourth WNBA team to win a title with both a league MVP and coach of the year … The Sun have been among the last four WNBA teams standing for each of the last four seasons, making it back to the Finals for the first time since 2019.

Alyssa Thomas had the first triple-double in WNBA Finals history, and the Connecticut Sun staved off elimination by beating the Las Vegas Aces 105-76 in Game 3 on Thursday night.

Thomas had 16 points, 15 rebounds and 11 assists for the Sun, who have now won all four of their elimination games in these playoffs, topping Dallas on the road in the first round and beating Chicago in Games 4 and 5 to close out that series.

Game 4 of this best-of-five series is Sunday in Connecticut.

“We’ve been struggling offensively and we finally got a game back at home and my teammates were hitting shots,” Thomas said. “None of this would have been possible without them.”

Las Vegas got off to a fast start, scoring nine of the first 11 points and forcing Connecticut to call a timeout. That settled the Sun down and they took over, outscoring the Aces 32-10 the rest of the quarter, including 25 of the final 29 points. Connecticut made 14 of its 17 shots in the period and DeWanna Bonner was a big reason why.

She struggled in the first two games of the series, scoring five points total while missing 16 of her 18 shots. She had seven points in the opening 8 minutes on Thursday night and finished with 18.

“She was huge. She’s been here before. She’s won it. So, we lean on her,” Thomas said. “And she’s been struggling offensively, but we had nothing but faith in her and she came out and did her thing tonight.”

Jonquel Jones led the Sun with 20 points.

Jones, Bonner and Thomas helped Connecticut dominate inside as the Sun set a Finals record with 64 points in the paint while holding Las Vegas to 26.

“That’s a team that is very resilient. If you could encapsulate Connecticut it’s physical and very resilient,” Aces coach Becky Hammon said. “They are physical and resilient and we didn’t match that tonight in any category.”

Connecticut used that advantage to lead 53-34 with 1:44 left in the second quarter before the Aces closed the period by scoring the final nine points, including a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from Kelsey Plum from just inside half-court.

The Sun seized momentum back to start the third quarter, scoring the first five points. Las Vegas couldn’t get closer than six the rest of the game.

“Plain and simple our defense couldn’t stop them tonight,” Hammon said.

Jackie Young scored 22 points and A’ja Wilson added 19 for the Aces.

The victory thwarted Las Vegas’ first attempt at winning the franchise’s inaugural WNBA championship. The team had been in the Finals twice before and got swept in 2008 and 2020.

TRIPLE THREAT

Thomas now has two triple-doubles in her career — both this season. This was the third in WNBA playoff history. Chicago’s Courtney Vandersloot and Houston’s Sheryl Swoopes had the others.

TIP-INS

Former Aces president and coach Bill Laimbeer sat courtside. He took over the franchise when it moved to Las Vegas in 2018 before retiring at the end of last season. Laimbeer was instrumental in assembling the championship roster by drafting Wilson first in 2018 and getting Gray to come to the team last season as a free agent. … Aces owner Mark Davis sat on the baseline. … Had the Aces been able to complete the comeback, they would have broken the mark for biggest rally in WNBA Finals history. The New York Liberty came back from 18 down in 1999 against Houston when Teresa Weatherspoon hit a game-winning shot from half-court. Hammon played for the Liberty in that game.

HONORED

Wilson and Seattle’s Breanna Stewart were unanimous choices for the All-WNBA first team that was announced Thursday. Plum also was on the first team as well as Phoenix’s Skylar Diggins-Smith and Chicago’s Candace Parker. Thomas and Jones were on the second team along with New York’s Sabrina Ionescu, Los Angeles’s Nneka Ogwumike and Minnesota’s Sylvia Fowles.

A’ja Wilson, Chelsea Gray and Kelsey Plum provided all the offense Las Vegas needed to move the Aces one win away from the franchise’s first WNBA title.

Wilson had 26 points and 10 rebounds to lead Las Vegas to an 85-71 victory over the Connecticut Sun on Tuesday night in Game 2 of the WNBA Finals.

The Aces had been 0-6 in the Finals before taking the first two games of the series with Connecticut. Las Vegas, which was swept in the championship in 2008 when the franchise was still in San Antonio and also in 2020, will look to secure the title on Thursday night in Connecticut.

“It’s going to take every bit of everybody,” said Gray, who added 21 points. “You can see the stats, it’s the toughness, it’s the little things that will get it done We have been a good road team this year. So we might as well go win on the road.”

Plum rebounded from an awful Game 1 to score 20 points.

“A’ja cussed me out before the game. That’s all I needed,” Plum said. “About time I joined the party. They carried us all week. It’s good to hit some shots, but we have one more.”

After being held to a season-low 67 points in Game 1, the Aces found their offensive prowess to hit 33 of 64 (51.6%) from the floor.

Connecticut, which finished 27 of 64 (42.2%) from the field, had four players in double digits, led by Courtney Williams with 18.

Jonquel Jones also had a double-double with 16 points and 11 rebounds, Alyssa Thomas finished with 13 points.

Looking to establish an offensive presence early, both teams pushed the pace early, trading buckets to a 10-10 tie until the Aces seized momentum and used an 11-4 run to open a seven-point advantage. Las Vegas hit 55% (10 of 18) from the floor in the first quarter while the Sun struggled to a 35% clip, hitting just 7 of 20.

The Aces continued to apply offensive pressure in the second, led by Plum, who contributed 11 in the quarter.

“I thought Kelsey’s drives opened us up,” Hammon said. “I mean, the other day we got good looks again from three. We didn’t want to knock them down but you have to believe the worm will turn there eventually. The important thing is we are getting good looks once she gets in there.”

Connecticut was down 14 when coach Curt Miller went big with his lineup, and the Sun responded with a 12-4 run to cut their deficit to six before a Wilson bucket provided the Aces with a 45-37 halftime lead.

“Get to my spots my teammates are putting me in a situation where I’m comfortable,” Wilson said.

But Las Vegas’ offensive balance continued into the third, with five different scorers helping the Aces push the lead to 14, outscoring Connecticut 23-17, taking a 68-54 lead into the final period.

“We felt like we were playing catchup all night since we couldn’t string together consecutive stops,” Miller said. “Trying to keep this high-powered offense out of rhythm and tonight we struggled to do that.”

PAINTING EFFICIENCY

While the teams each came away with 34 rebounds, the Aces outrebounded the Sun 6-2 with offensive boards and had better overall efficiency in the paint by outscoring Connecticut, 46-28.

LET’S GET PHYSICAL

The third quarter saw both teams with bumps and bruises. Gray and Natisha Hiedeman left the game with twisted ankles early in the third quarter. Gray went back to the locker room but later returned. Jackie Young suffered a busted lip. Williams left late in the third with what appeared to be a lower leg injury. Hiedeman and Williams returned to start the fourth quarter. Young returned early in the final period.

BACKS AGAINST THE WALL

Connecticut is 3-0 in elimination games in the playoffs so far this season.

“We are taking it one game at a time,” Jones said. “That’s all we can do. We are going to go back home, we are going to have our fans behind us, who have been with us all season, and we are going to use that to propel us to a win and that’s all we can do.”

WATCHING THE W

ABC registered the most-viewed WNBA Finals Game 1 in five years, with 555,000 viewers, and a peak viewership of 872,000. It was an 18% increase over Game 1 of the 2021 WNBA Finals.

A’ja Wilson had 24 points and 11 rebounds and the Las Vegas Aces beat the Connecticut Sun 67-64 on Sunday in Game 1 of the WNBA Finals.

The Aces staved off a late run by the Sun, who nearly erased a seven-point deficit with 1:24 left when Alyssa Thomas hit back-to-back shots to pull Connecticut within three. But DeWanna Bonner’s desperation 3-point attempt to tie the game fell short as time expired.

Chelsea Gray finished with 21 points for Las Vegas, while Jackie Young chipped in 11 as the franchise won their first WNBA Finals game in franchise history. They had been swept in 2008 when the team was in San Antonio and lost in three games in 2020.

“Coming from being swept and actually getting one. Pretty happy about this one,” Wilson said. “Not going to dwell on it long as we have a really tough Game 2 coming up.”

After squandering a first-quarter lead, and allowing the Sun to control the second and carry momentum in the third, the Aces outscored Connecticut 13-3 to close the third quarter and seize momentum for the final period before a frenzied record sold out gathering of 10,135.

Thomas led Connecticut with 19 points and 11 rebounds. Jonquel Jones added 15 points, Brionna Jones came off the bench to score 12 and Natasha Hiedeman contributed with 10.

Dearica Hamby came off the bench a bit past the midway point of the third quarter and provided an immediate spark for the Aces with a pair of offensive rebounds, a put back under the basket, two assists and a steal, as the Aces clawed their way back to turn a six-point point deficit into a two-point lead heading into the final period. Hamby missed the final month of the regular season with a knee injury.

She didn’t play in the first round of the playoffs and was used sparingly in the final two games of the semifinals.

The Aces set the tone early by taking a 12-5 lead with Wilson leading the charge by scoring six of their points. Wilson scored 12 of her points in the first quarter, as Las Vegas shot 56.3% (9 of 16) from the floor. Connecticut finished the opening quarter hitting 8 of 18 (47.6%). And while the Aces were 5 of 7 from the free-throw line, the Sun didn’t have one attempt in the period.

The Sun wasted no time in getting back into the game, opening the second quarter by scoring the first six points to pull within two, and eventually took a one-point lead at 30-29 behind 13-4 run. The Aces shot a dreadful 3 for 15 (20%) and was outscored 21-9 in the second quarter. The Sun finished 9 of 14 (64.2%) in the quarter and hit 17 of 42 (40.4%) in the first half.

“We can’t let them get rockin’ and rollin’ like that,” Wilson said.

COURTSIDE CLUB

In attendance for Game 1 included Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Shea Theodore, Miami Heat guard Kyle Lowry, Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant, free agent DeMarcus Cousins and Los Angeles Clippers coach Ty Lue.

EXHIBITION, EH?

Commissioner Cathy Engelbert announced during her pregame press conference that the WNBA will hold a preseason exhibition game in Canada next year with hopes of continuing global exposure for the league. This will be the first time since 2011 that the WNBA has played an international game.

UP NEXT

The teams will play Game 2 in Las Vegas on Tuesday.