It’s hard to adequately describe the heater Chelsea Gray is on, because we’ve never seen anything like it.
Right now, the player affectionately known as the point gawd is putting on one of the greatest shot-making clinics in basketball history. Her postseason effective field-goal percentage of 74.7 is the highest ever, comfortably lapping the second-place mark of 66.7% held by Becky Hammon (hi coach!). Gray is close to a 60/60/90 shooting line during the playoffs — a reminder that only one player, Elena Delle Donne, has even done 50/40/90 for a full season.
Gray’s company atop these field-goal percentage lists is mostly bigs who get all their shots right at the basket. But she is producing at this efficiency on a diet of ridiculously difficult shots, a series of pull-up jumpers that graze the stars before falling back down and consistently come when the Aces need a bucket most.
She’s put Breanna Stewart on skates, and then done it to Jewell Loyd on the ensuing possession. Gray’s been handed grenades at the end of a shot clock, with multiple defenders crowding her and cutting off her sight line to the basket, and she still gets buckets.
The collection of clutch shots she put together in four games against the Seattle Storm demand a full rewatch. The way she’s torching the nets is beyond comprehension considering how defenses are gearing up to stop her. Gabby Williams even thanked Gray for forcing her to become a better defender.
Here's two minutes of ridiculous shotmaking by Chelsea Gray in the semifinals. Just unstoppable. pic.twitter.com/JCWMj7FV4g— Sean Hurd (@seanahurd) September 7, 2022
Gray’s ascension isn’t isolated to her semifinals performance against Seattle. She did the same thing against Phoenix, providing a finishing kick when the Aces looked stagnant in Game 1 and then delivering a full-game highlight reel to close the series. Since the All-Star break, when Gray was inexplicably left off the All-Star roster (but not by Swish Appeal), she’s been 54.3 percent from the field and 40 percent on threes. Those numbers jumped to 59 and 43.5 percent, respectively, over the last two weeks of the regular season and now 62.6 and 59.5 percent in the posteason.
Don’t forget that Gray also was MVP of the Commissioner’s Cup Final at the end of July.
“It’s the body of work,” Kelsey Plum said after practice Saturday. “Over the course of, not even just the playoffs, but the bigger games we’ve had during the regular season, she’s been absolutely dynamite for us. It’s coming to that point that where anytime there’s a tight moment or shot clock situation, find a way to get her the ball, let her make a play. She’s made clutch shots since she’s been in the league, so it’s nothing new for us.”
Gray’s shot chart during the playoffs is unlike any I’ve ever seen. She’s hot from everywhere, but what’s most impressive is that her shot frequency goes up the further you get from the basket, and her efficiency remains other-worldly.
Rebecca Lobo, who will be calling the WNBA Finals, couldn’t heap enough praise on Gray in a conference call Saturday:
Well, one thing we’ve all learned from watching the playoffs is it doesn’t matter if you can stop Chelsea from getting to her spots on the floor; she’s still going to score. Chelsea has been ridiculous. Even when Seattle played incredible defense on her and maybe made her go to a spot that she didn’t want to go to, she still hit shots with a variety of defenders in her face, whether it was small, quick players, whether it was big players on switches, whether it was multiple people.
Chelsea Gray is having a playoff like none other I can remember in memory in terms of the difficulty of shots that she’s making and the consistency with which she’s doing it.
Our announce crew has talked before games, like, all right, at some point is she going to regress to the mean? No, she hasn’t, and I don’t know if she will in the Finals.
Connecticut is going to do everything they can, I’m sure, to make it hard for Chelsea Gray, and if Chelsea Gray keeps doing what she’s been doing in the playoffs, it won’t matter. She’ll still shoot over 60 percent from the field and from three on uncontested shots.
The beauty of Gray’s game is that her playmaking has still been dynamite for Las Vegas. In the Game 4 clincher, Gray became the first player in WNBA playoff history to score 30 points and add 10 assists. She has set the franchise record for assists in a single postseason, once again dethroning Hammon.
It hasn’t gotten the attention of her shot-making, but Gray’s also navigating every pick-and-roll coverage thrown her way, making high-level passes out of doubles to find shooters and to set up her teammates at the rim. There’s no way to defend her when she’s simultaneously a prolific scoring and playmaking threat.
Gray has been a leader for the Aces all season, but that will take on new importance against the Sun, since she’s only the Las Vegas player to have won a WNBA title, back in 2016 with the Los Angeles Sparks. Even with that success in her back pocket, though, Gray seeks redemption in this series. Her two final playoff runs with L.A. were disappointing, mostly because of how well the Connecticut defense kept her in check. In 2019, she averaged 7.0 points and 4.3 assists on 30 percent shooting from the field as the Sun swept the Sparks in the WNBA semifinals. The next year, Gray had a disastrous performance in a single-elimination game, putting up four points and zero assists.
It’s hard to reconcile that version of Gray with the one we’re seeing in 2022. Now, the numerous shooting threats in the Aces offense give her ample space to work in the middle of the floor, and she can pick her spots, knowing that Plum, Jackie Young, and A’ja Wilson can carry the scoring load as well.
Another key difference for Gray? No Jasmine Thomas on the other end. Connecticut prides itself on team defense, but every member of the Sun was key to credit Thomas for taking the lead and defending Gray in single coverage in those playoff matchups. Even after Gray moved to Las Vegas, Connecticut — and Thomas, by extension — still proved to be her kryptonite, with the Aces losing all three games to the Sun in 2021.
Las Vegas won the season series in 2022, but Thomas didn’t suit up in any games after tearing her ACL, and she won’t be available in the Finals either, having only just started to run again after her surgery. That clears the path for Gray to continue to her reign of terror on opposing defenses and cap off one of the greatest playoff runs in league history.
Gray still hasn’t assumed the status of the Aces’ best player — for now, and for the foreseeable future, that title belongs to Wilson, the two-time M’VP. But even Wilson knows that Gray is the team’s emotional heartbeat, the player who can settle Vegas down but also turn up the heat, the coach on the floor who will guide them in tough situations.
“I just remember seeing Chelsea play when she was with the Sparks, and I was like man she is just nice with it, like she’s cold,” Wilson said Saturday. “And now being on the court with her, I am even catching myself looking like, she really just made that. Playoff Chelsea is a different beast, and I am so glad she is on our side, because it is not just about the shot-making, it is not just about the playmaking, it is about how she dissects the game for us so that it can be easy for us. And the calmness she has in the locker room is huge.”
At no point in her career has Gray shot or distributed the ball better than she is now. A four-time All-Star, Olympian, and former champion has found a new level.
Connecticut head coach Curt Miller pointedly reminded the media this week that his team is responsible for knocking Candace Parker out of the playoffs in three of the last four seasons. The Sun will have a chance to say the same about Gray at the end of these Finals.
But if the same player from the last month continues to grace the floor? This Chelsea Gray can’t be stopped.