UNCASVILLE, Conn. — 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 on the run. The Aces improved to 4-0 in this year’s playoffs with two days off.
Riquna 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. When the buzzer sounded, Wilson grabbed the ball and stomped on the ground before being mobbed by his teammates.
“We the champions! We the champions! We the champions!” Wilson gave a shout out to his teammates as they donned their championship hats and t-shirts ahead of the trophy presentation ceremony.
It’s the first major professional sports title for a Las Vegas team, and Wilson surely hopes it’s just the beginning.
“You see it. You see it,” Wilson said during the on-court celebration. “That’s what we’re building. That’s what we’re doing. That’s 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 12.
Las Vegas led by two points at halftime and four points after three quarters.
For Aces coach Becky Hammon, who went untitled during her stellar WNBA career, the ring has completed a decades-long quest. She left an assistant coaching job with Gregg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs to take over in Las Vegas, and the move paid off.
“They’re amazing on the pitch, but first and foremost they’re amazing humans,” Hammon said. “They care about each other. They invest in each other. It was an absolute honor to be their coach. I saw the excellence and wanted to be a part of it.”
Hammon also paid tribute to former Aces coach Bill Laimbeer, who was on the court 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, was not with his football team on Sunday. He was in Connecticut to get a trophy. He hoisted it up, then handed it over to cheerful players who did the same.
“Las Vegas, we’re world champions,” Davis said.
It was a six-point lead in the fourth when Kelsey Plum was called for a flagrant foul after hitting Bonner as the Sun guard attempted a 3-pointer and sent him to the ground holding his right ankle. Bonner hit all three free throws before Jonquel Jones’ short jumper cut the lead to one point. The Sun then tied the game at 67 on a Courtney Williams free throw and took a 71-70 lead on two fouls by Brionna Jones.
But Las Vegas had the answers.
Riquna Williams’ 3-pointer put the Aces back in the lead and Chelsea Gray’s back jumper extended the lead to 75-71 with less than a minute to go. A’Ja Wilson then stole a pass and Plum hit a short jump to secure the win.
Bonner opened the scoring with a lean from the left wing. But Kelsey Plum’s 3-pointer from the left baseline sparked a 12-0 first run for Vegas that propelled them 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.
Chelsea Gray was the WNBA Finals MVP
Gray — who overcame serious career-threatening injuries in the past — was WNBA Finals MVP, unsurprisingly after averaging 18.3 points and 6 assists in the series.
“My teammates are awesome,” Gray said, breaking down in tears. “I worked so hard for this.”
She was not a WNBA All-Star this season, nor an all-league first-team pick, and expressed her displeasure about it.
In the end, she also had the last word.
“They can keep this all-star and first team,” Gray said. “I have the ring.”
As expected, it was a physical game played appropriately on an NFL Sunday. The Sun got scared when Bonner inadvertently took an elbow in the gut from Gray late in the first quarter and he was down for a few minutes before being helped to the bench. She returned to the game later in the half, apparently suffering no ill effects. Natisha Hiedeman and Plum got into a short second quarter pushing game, causing technical fouls on both players. It was all before Plum’s flagrant in fourth.
Both coaches reflected on their inclusive organizations
Before the match, the two coaches reflected on the composition of the organizations in the final. The Aces are led by Hammon and two black female executives in chief executive Nikki Williams and president of business operations Nikki Fargas. The Suns belong to the Mohegan tribe, have a female president in the person of Jen Rizzotti and are coached by Curt Miller, a homosexual.
“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 a source of inspiration. inspiration for any gay child. “to wonder if they can pursue a career in the sport.”
Hammon said she thinks the diversity of her team’s front office has made her stronger.
“You can make a much better picture with a box full of colored pencils than just a pencil,” she said.
The start of the celebration was broadcast on video screens at the Raiders’ stadium during the NFL game against Arizona on Sunday, to cheers from fans. They can cheer more in a few days: a parade on the Las Vegas Strip is scheduled for Thursday evening.
“What a team, what a talent, what a victory! You made Las Vegas so proud!” Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman said in a statement. “Thank you for your efforts, your discipline and your focus. We look forward to the celebrations and a great parade!”
The Aces are the fourth WNBA team to win a title with both a league MVP and a coach of the year. The Sun have been among the last four WNBA teams standing for each of the past four seasons, returning to the Finals for the first time since 2019.
“Nobody expected us to be here,” Bonner said. “They expected us to lose to Chicago. They expected us to lose to Dallas. Despite all of that, we made it to the final.”