Posts Tagged ‘2022 WNBA Season’

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.

The NBA has suspended Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury owner Robert Sarver for one year, plus fined him $10 million, after an investigation found that he had engaged in what the league called “workplace misconduct and organizational deficiencies.”

The findings of the league’s report, published Tuesday, came nearly a year after the NBA asked a law firm to investigate allegations that Sarver had a history of racist, misogynistic and hostile incidents over his nearly two-decade tenure overseeing the franchise.

Sarver said he will “accept the consequences of the league’s decision” and apologized for “words and actions that offended our employees,” though noted he disagreed with some of the report’s findings.

The report said Sarver “repeated or purported to repeat the N-word on at least five occasions spanning his tenure with the Suns,” though added that the investigation “makes no finding that Sarver used this racially insensitive language with the intent to demean or denigrate.”

The study also concluded that Sarver used demeaning language toward female employees, including telling a pregnant employee that she would not be able to do her job after becoming a mother; made off-color comments and jokes about sex and anatomy; and yelled and cursed at employees in ways that would be considered bullying “under workplace standards.”

The $10 million fine is the maximum allowed by NBA rule.

“I take full responsibility for what I have done,” Sarver said. “I am sorry for causing this pain, and these errors in judgment are not consistent with my personal philosophy or my values. … This moment is an opportunity for me to demonstrate a capacity to learn and grow as we continue to build a working culture where every employee feels comfortable and valued.”

Sarver, the league said, cannot be present at any NBA or WNBA team facility, including any office, arena, or practice facility; attend or participate in any NBA or WNBA event or activity, including games, practices or business partner activity; represent the Suns or Mercury in any public or private capacity; or have any involvement with the business or basketball operations of the Suns or Mercury.

The league said it would donate the $10 million “to organizations that are committed to addressing race and gender-based issues in and outside the workplace.”

“The statements and conduct described in the findings of the independent investigation are troubling and disappointing,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said. “We believe the outcome is the right one, taking into account all the facts, circumstances and context brought to light by the comprehensive investigation of this 18-year period and our commitment to upholding proper standards in NBA workplaces.”

It’s the second-largest penalty — in terms of total sanctions — ever levied by the NBA against a team owner, behind Donald Sterling being banned for life by Silver in 2014. Sterling was fined $2.5 million, the largest allowable figure at that time, and was forced to sell the Los Angeles Clippers as part of the massive fallout that followed him making racist comments in a recorded conversation.

The allegations against Sarver were reported by ESPN last year, which said it talked to dozens of current and former team employees for its story, including some who detailed inappropriate behavior. He originally denied or disputed most of the allegations through his legal team.

On Tuesday, Sarver’s representatives said the investigation’s findings “confirmed that there was no evidence, whatsoever, to support several of the accusations in ESPN’s reporting from November 2021.”

“While it is difficult to identify with precision what motivated Sarver’s workplace behavior described in this report, certain patterns emerged from witness accounts: Sarver often acted aggressively in an apparent effort to provoke a reaction from his targets; Sarver’s sense of humor was sophomoric and inappropriate for the workplace; and Sarver behaved as though workplace norms and policies did not apply to him,” read the report from the New York-based investigating firm of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz.

Sarver will have to complete a training program “focused on respect and appropriate conduct in the workplace” during his suspension, the league said.

Sarver, through his attorney, continued denying the allegations as recently as June in a letter to the league and insisted the claims against him were “demonstrably false.”

The attorney, Thomas Clare, wrote that Sarver’s record shows a “longstanding commitment to social and racial justice” and that it attests to his “commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion.”

“Mr. Sarver is one of few NBA owners who continues to support and advance the development of women’s professional basketball,” Clare wrote, citing upgrades to the Mercury team facilities, how the Suns claim a league-best rate of 55% employment of minorities within its front office and how more than half of the Suns’ coaches and general managers in Sarver’s tenure — including current coach Monty Williams and current GM James Jones — are Black.

Among the league’s findings:

— That Sarver engaged in “crude, sexual and vulgar commentary and conduct in the workplace,” including references to sexual acts, condoms and the anatomy, referring to both his own and those of others.

— The investigation also found that Sarver sent a small number of male Suns employees “joking pornographic material and crude emails, including emails containing photos of a nude woman and a video of two people having sex.”

— Sarver, the investigation found, also exposed himself unnecessarily to a male Suns employee during a fitness check, caused another male employee to become uncomfortable by grabbing him and dancing “pelvis to pelvis” at a holiday party, and standing nude in front of a male employee following a shower.

— He also made comments about female employees, the investigation found, including the attractiveness of Suns dancers, and asked a female Suns employee if she had undergone breast augmentation.

The league also will require the Suns and Mercury to engage in a series of workplace improvements, including retaining outside firms that will “focus on fostering a diverse, inclusive and respectful workplace.”

Employees of those organizations will be surveyed, anonymously and regularly, to ensure that proper workplace culture is in place. The NBA and WNBA will need to be told immediately of any instances, or even allegations, of significant misconduct by any employees.

All those conditions will be in place for three years.

The league said the results of the investigation were based on interviews with 320 individuals, including current and former employees who worked for the teams during Sarver’s 18 years with the Suns, and from the evaluation of more than 80,000 documents and other materials, including emails, text messages and videos.

Sarver and the Suns and Mercury “cooperated fully with the investigative process,” the league said.

“Regardless of position, power or intent, we all need to recognize the corrosive and hurtful impact of racially insensitive and demeaning language and behavior,” Silver said. “On behalf of the entire NBA, I apologize to all of those impacted by the misconduct outlined in the investigators’ report. We must do better.”

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.

Las Vegas Aces star A’ja Wilson was named the WNBA’s Most Valuable Player for the 2022 season on Wednesday.

It’s the second regular-season MVP award for Wilson, who received the accolade in 2020. The 26-year-old was also named the 2022 Defensive Player of the Year.

Wilson still has an opportunity to add to her silverware. The Aces booked their spot in the WNBA Finals by eliminating the Seattle Storm on Tuesday and will face either the Chicago Sky or Connecticut Sun for the championship.

Jonquel Jones had 15 points and 10 rebounds and the Connecticut Sun overcame an 11-point deficit in the fourth quarter, beating the Chicago Sky 72-63 Thursday night in the decisive fifth game of the semifinal series and advancing to the WNBA Finals.

Connecticut scored the final 18 points of the game to overcome a 63-54 deficit with 4:46 remaining.

All the Sun starters scored in double figures and Connecticut advanced to the Finals of the WNBA playoffs for the third time overall and first time since 2019.

Connecticut will face the top-seeded Las Vegas Aces for the WNBA title. The first game of the series is Sunday in Las Vegas.

“To be honest, going to enjoy this moment right now,” Jones said. “Hats off to the Aces. We’ll see them in the championship. I’m just enjoying this moment right here.”

Chicago was attempting to become the first team to repeat as WNBA champions since the Los Angeles Sparks in 2001-02.

Trailing 63-54, Connecticut took over. DeWanna Bonner was fouled after making a layup by Kahleah Copper with 3:46 left. The two players exchanged words and that seemed to energize the Sun.

Jones scored inside to put the Sun ahead with two minutes left, hitting an ensuing free throw for a three-point lead.

A pull-up jumper by Courtney Williams with 47.5 seconds remaining gave the Sun a five-point cushion, and Bonner knocked down four free throws to put the game out of reach.

Connecticut outscored Chicago 25-5 in the fourth quarter, recovering from a disastrous third period in which it scored eight points and turned the ball over seven times.

“We were on the ropes and it took that type of defensive quarter to advance to the finals,” Sun coach Curt Miller said.

Copper led the Sky with 22 points on 8-for-19 shooting, including 3 of 5 from long distance, and added four steals.

DeWanna Bonner chipped in with 15 points, Hiedeman added 14 and Williams and Alyssa Thomas each added 12 for Connecticut.

Emma Meesseman, who finished with 14 points on 6-for-14 shooting and six rebounds, gave the Sky an 11-point lead with 7:20 to play.

In the opening half, the Sun continued the torrid shooting they had in Game 4, when the made 56.9% of their shots. But that slowed in the third quarter, as the Sky defense tightened.

Candace Parker buried a 3-pointer and Copper followed with three-point play to give Chicago a 10-point lead entering the fourth.

But Chicago’s shooting went cold and the Sky missed their last eight shots.

Parker finished with seven points and nine rebounds.

Chicago will face the top-seeded Aces in Las Vegas in the opener of the WNBA Finals on Sunday afternoon.

DeWanna Bonner and Courtney Williams each scored 19 points to help the Connecticut Sun rout the Chicago Sky 104-80 on Tuesday night and force a decisive Game 5 in their WNBA semifinal series.

Alyssa Thomas added 17 points for Connecticut, which will travel to the second-seeded Sky for the winner-take-all game on Thursday night.

It’s the second consecutive playoff series for each team that has gone the distance. Both Chicago and Connecticut had to go on the road in the third game of their opening-round series and win to reach the semifinals because of the new playoff format that saw the higher seeded team host the first two games of that best-of-three set.

Connecticut coach Curt Miller has been saying for the entire series that his team would have to make the game “messy” to beat the Sky. Getting into a high-scoring game wouldn’t benefit the Sun.

That wasn’t the case Tuesday, as the Sun raced to a 22-6 lead, scoring 10 of the first 12 points. Thomas was a big reason why with seven points, four rebounds and two assists in the first five minutes. The All-Star forward had six points total in Game 3 and seven in Game 2 — both Connecticut losses.

The Sky got back within eight by the end of the first quarter, but couldn’t get much closer as Connecticut had an answer for every Chicago run — thanks to Thomas, Bonner and Jonquel Jones.

Chicago got within 38-33 midway through the second quarter before the Sun went on a 15-5 run to restore the double-digit advantage. DiJonai Carrington had five points during the burst that was capped by Thomas’ layup with 1:01 left in the half.

Candace Parker, who had been stellar in the first three games of the series, scored her first points of the game on a 3-pointer 16 seconds later that got the Sky within 53-41. Connecticut scored the final five points, including a layup just before the buzzer by Carrington that made it 58-41 at the break.

Williams was the spark in the third quarter, helping the Sun stave off any Sky run. Her teammates were looking for her when Chicago would come double them, and Williams was left open for layups. She had 10 points in the third quarter.

Kahleah Copper scored 16 points and Emma Meesseman added 14 for the Sky.

AWARD WINNER:

WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert honored Sun forward Brionna Jones before the game with the league’s Sixth Person of the Year award. Jones received 53 of the 56 votes from a national media panel. It’s the first time Jones has won the award.

TIP-INS:

The Sky are trying to be the first team to repeat as champions since Los Angeles did it in 2001-02. Six other defending champions reached the finals since then, but all lost in that round. … The UConn women’s basketball team was in attendance, sitting a few row up from the Chicago Sky bench. … Bonner moved into seventh on the all-time postseason scoring list in WNBA history.

Sue Bird’s career came to an end Tuesday night as Chelsea Gray scored 15 of her 31 points in the fourth quarter and the Las Vegas Aces advanced to the WNBA Finals with a 97-92 win over the Seattle Storm in Game 4 of their semifinal series.

The Aces won the best-of-five series 3-1, all the games tense, pressure-packed and filled with spectacular shot-making. The Aces ended up making more, most notably Gray, who made five of six shots down the stretch and scored 12 of the final 20 points for the Aces.

It will be the third Finals appearance in franchise history for Las Vegas. The Aces lost to Seattle in 2020 in the WNBA bubble played in Florida, and the franchise reached the Finals in 2008 while still in San Antonio, losing to Detroit.

“It’s kind of like the girl that beat Serena (Williams). It’s bittersweet,” Aces coach Becky Hammon said. “I know myself and our staff and team and organization have so much respect for Sue. She’s had a fairytale career, one that kids dream of. She got to live it.”

Breanna Stewart tied the WNBA playoff record with 42 points, just the fifth player to score 40 or more in a postseason game, and Jewell Loyd added 29. But Seattle failed to find a third scorer and the Aces had an answer for every charge Seattle made after Las Vegas surged in front early in the second half.

The Aces will get the spotlight in the Finals. On this night, the aftermath of the result was all about Bird and the conclusion to her two decades as a pillar to the Storm franchise and the WNBA.

Bird stayed on the court after the final buzzer, receiving hugs from the entire Aces roster. She wiped away tears while the crowd cheered and cried along with her and chanted “Thank you, Sue.”

“It’s been my honor to play for this franchise, to play for these fans. I don’t know what else to say,” Bird said.

The oldest player in the league at age 41, Bird started the year thinking this would be it, but brought finality to the decision midway through the regular season.

Las Vegas spoiled the party in Seattle’s home regular-season finale when Bird was honored by the franchise and the league for her 21 seasons with the team and 19 as a player, missing two seasons with injury.

And it was Aces that finally eliminated Bird and the Storm after four stressful games filled with big performances.

Bird closes out her career as one of the most decorated players of all-time: four WNBA titles, five Olympic gold medals, two collegiate titles at UConn, the WNBA all-time leader in assists and games played, and recognition as one of the great players during a golden generation for the league.

She’ll also take into retirement the definition of being a floor leader and ultimately a winner.

But she wasn’t able to add a fifth title to that final resume.

Gray was the biggest thorn for Seattle with her clutch shooting often late in the shot clock. Seattle pulled even at 67-all, only to have Gray hit a 3 as the shot clock expired.

Gray scored consecutive buckets later in the fourth to keep the Aces ahead, but her miss and Gabby Williams’ driving layup pulled Seattle even at 82 with 2:40 left. After an officials review, Wilson was assessed a foul on the play for hitting Williams in the face, and her free throw gave the Storm a one-point lead.

That was Seattle’s last lead. A’ja Wilson’s three-point play put the Aces back ahead 85-83 and Gray wouldn’t miss, her jumper with 30 seconds left giving the Aces a 92-87 lead. Wilson finished with 23 points and 13 rebounds.

RECORD HALF

Stewart’s 26 points in the first half was the most in the first half of a playoff game, topping the 24 points Angel McCoughtry had in the first half for Atlanta against Minnesota in 2011. McCoughtry finished that game with 38.

UP NEXT

Las Vegas will host either Connecticut or Chicago in Game 1 of the WNBA Finals on Sunday.

Candace Parker had 16 points and 11 rebounds, Kahleah Copper added 15 points and the Chicago Sky beat the Connecticut Sun 76-72 on Sunday in Game 3 of the WNBA semifinals.

The defending champion Sky lead the best-of-five series 2-1 and can advance to the finals with a win Tuesday night.

Copper’s 3-pointer with 6:14 left gave Chicago a 66-64 lead. Neither team scored for nearly the next 4 minutes until Emma Meesseman hit a jumper in the corner to extend the lead to four with 2:26 left.

Courtney Williams ended a 4:45 scoring drought that saw the Sun miss eight shots with a jumper with 1:45 left to make it 68-66. Copper then made two free throws and Meesseman added a layup to make it 72-66 with under a minute left.

After a missed layup by Chicago, DeWanna Bonner was fouled with 22 seconds left and made both free throws to get the Sky within 72-70.

Parker restored a four-point lead by making two free throws with 15.2 seconds left. Bonner then missed a 3-pointer from the wing and Courtney Vandersloot made two free throws with 6.9 seconds left to seal the win.

Bonner had 18 points to lead the Sun, which had 17 turnovers.

Connecticut led 23-21 after one quarter when Bonner banked in a 3-pointer from about 30 feet just before the buzzer. Connecticut was 8 for 9 from the foul line in the period.

The teams went back and forth in the second quarter with Chicago going up 40-38 at the half. Parker had 12 points and six rebounds in the opening half. Natisha Heideman had 12 points for Connecticut.

Chicago led 56-55 after three as neither team could get more than a seven-point lead heading into the final period.

STAT SHEET STUFFER

Alyssa Thomas had just six points, going 3 for 12 from the field, but added 13 rebounds and seven assists.

BATTLE SCAR

Parker took a shot to the left eye 3 minutes into the game and briefly left to the locker room. She returned about a minute later but had a noticeable bump over her eye.