Sitting at 2–0 after two convincing wins over the Connecticut Sun, the Las Vegas Aces stand on the precipice of their first title.
By Laura Fay
A new ruler of the WNBA will be crowned this week, and so far everything is coming up Aces. With two commanding home victories over an overmatched Sun side, Las Vegas needs to steal just one game on the road to hoist their first-ever championship trophy. With just one hurdle left to clear, let’s look back on the Aces’ key players so far—and what they need to keep doing going forward.
You can’t talk about this playoff run without mentioning the incredible play of Chelsea Gray. Seriously, we’re running out of adjectives to describe how impressive this showing is.
Dagger-like accuracy on seemingly impossible shots has been Gray’s MO this postseason. She’s shooting from everywhere on court, and somehow they keep going in. Off balance floater? Got it. Put back off the rim? You bet. Deep three with the clock running down? Easy.
For a comparison point: the only player to ever shoot 50/40/90 in the playoffs is Diana Taurasi, who did it in 2016. Gray, while currently below 90% on free throws, is shooting 60% from the field and a stunning 52% from deep. If she can keep pace there and get to the line a bit more, she could become the first and only WNBA player with a 60/50/90.
With such a stunning resume, anyone would think Gray is a shoo-in for Finals MVP. She may be the favorite, but you’d be stupid to discount the impact of A’ja Wilson.
If we can’t talk about these finals without mentioning Chelsea Gray, we certainly can’t leave out newly crowned MVP Wilson.
Wilson received her new trophy—the second MVP award of her career—before Game 1 of the finals, and boy has she looked deserving of it in this series. After a shaky start, Wilson has stepped up her play at the right times in these playoffs.
After a quiet showing that allowed Seattle to steal Game 1 of the semifinals, Wilson found her form in Game 2 and hasn’t looked back. She’s had five straight 20+pt/10+reb double-doubles since then, absolutely picking apart defenses rated 2nd and 3rd best in the regular season. She led all scorers with 26 points on Tuesday.
With records being set all over the floor, one may be tempted to think the Sun are playing particularly poorly. They’re not.
With one of the best defenses in the league, Connecticut has actually been great at limiting the Aces on that end of the floor. Las Vegas’s 67-point total in Game 1 was their lowest of the season, and 85 points in Game 2 was still below their regular-season average.
Despite that, Connecticut’s offense has been unable to translate defensive stops into points. DeWanna Bonner, a true scoring threat in the semifinals, has been all but neutralized by the Aces. The forward has just five points combined over two games, shooting 2–18 from the floor and 1–8 from beyond the arc. If the Sun has any hope of getting back into this, they’re going to need more production from the star.
She’s not the only one struggling. Trying to find production after lackluster showings from the starting five, Coach Curt Miller has given extended play time to Odyssey Sims and Dijonai Carrington, neither of whom has been especially stellar. With the game still within reach in the third quarter, he gave rookie Nia Clouden her first minutes in over a week. While Clouden had four points in five minutes of play, the Aces realized her inexperience and played into it.
The only way Connecticut had success late was by playing an all-big lineup. While that physical gameplay allowed them to make some runs late in the third and early in the fourth quarters, it sacrificed some speed and agility. Once the Aces figured out that trick, it was all over.
As Miller tries to work out the best lineup to neutralize Aces stars, Becky Hammon is sticking to her guns. Passed over for multiple NBA head coaching jobs last year, Hammon, a franchise stalwart when the Aces were called the San Antonio Stars, returned to her roots.
Hammon inherited a talented squad that had twice fallen short at the final hurdle and turned them into the most feared squad in the WNBA. Under former coach Bill Laimbeer the Aces were almost allergic to the three-point line. While they had a few semi-regular shooters from deep, Laimbeer’s game plan revolved much more around dominance in the paint.
Hammon threw that game plan out the window. A’ja Wilson, who had shot just two threes in the first four years of her career, is now a true all-level scorer. She shot 37.8% from deep in the regular season, a remarkable improvement for someone who was, to that point, just 1–2 in her career.
Similarly, Jackie Young took (and hit) a lot more triples in 2022, improving her 3pt% from 25% to a striking 43% and earning the 2022 Most Improved award for her efforts. By turning her core players into threats all across the board, Hammon has created an offense where every player is a threat. If just one opposing player has an off night, Las Vegas can capitalize with ease.
This series isn’t over yet. With home-court advantage on their side, the Sun can capitalize on their home stretch and try to push these finals to five games. But if the Aces continue their dominant march towards a first championship, don’t say we didn’t warn you.
Game 3 of the WNBA Finals will air Thursday, September 14th at 9 p.m. ET (ESPN).