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Clutch execution delivers Aces first title

A 8-0 run to close the game gave Las Vegas the 2022 WNBA championship.

2022 WNBA Finals - Las Vegas Aces v Connecticut Sun Photo by Chris Marion/NBAE via Getty Images

The Las Vegas Aces and Connecticut Sun couldn’t create much separation from each other for most of the second half. When it looked like the Aces had finally created a significant six-point lead, an unfortunate flagrant foul against DeWanna Bonner — while she was shooting a 3-pointer — led to a five-point possession for the Sun, letting Connecticut right back into the game. The Sun even took the lead 69-67 with 2:22 to play.

That’s when the clutch gene of Las Vegas kicked in, spurred by an unlikely source in Riquna Williams. Williams found pockets of space against a Connecticut jumbo lineup that couldn’t quite figure out how to contain the small Aces unit. She hit a three on the ensuing possession to put the Aces up 70-67, then another on the next possession to retake the lead at 73-71. She followed that up with another jumper stepback jumper on the following play, then put her arms out like airplane wings in triumph.

Las Vegas closed out the game on an 8-0 run to win Game 4 winning 78-71 to win the first title in Aces franchise history. They brought the city of Las Vegas its first-ever professional title.

Williams finished the game with 17 points off the bench, one of five Aces in double-digit scoring. Finals MVP Chelsea Gray led the way with 20 points, and Kelsey Plum, Jackie Young, and A’ja Wilson added 15, 13, and 11, respectively, for Vegas.

The Aces had a defensive nightmare in Game 3, but quickly rectified that Sunday. Becky Hammon switched Wilson onto Alyssa Thomas to shut off the Sun’s water at the source. That stifled much of the Connecticut ball movement, and Thomas couldn’t even get her trademark push shot going because Wilson ate up Thomas’s space and even managed to block one of those attempts.

After allowing 34 points in the first quarter of the previous contest, Las Vegas surrendered 28 in the entire half. The Aces limited the Sun to two offensive rebounds in the first half and 35.5 percent shooting from the field while also forcing eight turnovers. Jonquel Jones only had four shot attempts. The increase in defensive intensity worked wonders.

The problem was that Connecticut was similarly committed to its defensive effort, and Las Vegas was sloppy offensively. Kelsey Plum made numerous bad decisions with the ball, whether that was picking up her dribble on drives or passing into traffic, resulting in five turnovers. Wilson was working defensively but didn’t quite have her touch on the other end, shooting 3-of-10 for seven points. Jackie Young was the beneficiary of the Sun’s help defense, and the Aces created several open shots for her; she, too, had an off shooting start, going 1-of-9 in the opening half.

After intermission, with its offense in need of a jolt, Las Vegas simply turned to the Finals MVP. One off night in the third game of the series wasn’t enough to get Gray off her weeks-long heater. There’s no way to describe some of the shots Gray was making — she’s impossible to stop getting to the elbow jumper, and she can sink them no matter the contest. Gray was slipping through double teams, gliding her way into the paint, and also directing the offense, accounting for 21 of the team’s 23 third-quarter points through scoring or assists.

That allowed the Aces to take a four-point lead into the fourth, and that was just enough to hold on down the stretch. Congrats to the Las Vegas, the champions of the 2022 WNBA season.