Down by 12 points on the road with 7:30 left in the third quarter, it looked like the Las Vegas Aces wouldn’t have enough to win. Playing essentially only six players due to injuries to starting point guard Chelsea Gray, starting center Kiah Stokes and Candace Parker, who has been out since July 25, a Game 5 in Vegas appeared inevitable.
Then A’ja Wilson got to work.
So with 5:05 left in the third quarter, the Aces are down 8, A'ja Wilson is 4/11 from the field and she just got blocked pretty bad by Jonquel Jones.— Ethan Fuller (@ethman43) October 19, 2023
Wilson proceeds to make 7 of her last 10 shots and Vegas wins the title. Total takeover mode, look at these buckets pic.twitter.com/6AKMMHTfVG
She boxes out Breanna Stewart and grabs a defensive board. She gets blocked by Jonquel Jones, but then hits a jumper to cut the lead to six. She grabs another defensive rebound on a Sabrina Ionescu miss and converts a layup on the other end of the floor. Later in the quarter, she had another offensive outburst, scoring five-consecutive Las Vegas points. The 12-point deficit is erased and the Aces entered the fourth quarter with a two-point edge.
This turning point in the game, which led to a 70-69 Las Vegas Aces win, was just a vignette in the myriad of moments where A’ja Wilson demonstrated why she’s not just the MVP of her team, but of the WNBA Finals—and why so many thought she should’ve been the MVP of the league over Stewart.
At the postgame press conference that was filled with rambunctious energy and “Knuck If You Buck” blasting out of a JBL speaker that Kelsey Plum hoisted on top of her shoulder, Wilson donned a shirt that simply stated “MVPeriodt.” When she spoke, Wilson thanked the critics for the motivation and spoke about the challenges of beating the Liberty on the road.
“We came back and we kept weathering the storm,” Wilson said postgame. “And now we came out on top.” Wilson didn’t directly discuss the MVP chatter, but her teammate Alysha Clark took the opportunity to talk about it. “When you have the best player, you’re going to always vouch and fight for them, right...She’s just been doing what she’s been doing all season,” Clark said. “And so to be able to be here on the biggest stage and show up the way she showed up just speaks to who she is as a player, what she means to this team, what she means for this franchise.”
Her place in this franchise is more than secured; two titles, a Finals MVP, two regular-season MVPs, five All-Star appearances and room for more. In the biggest game of the season, Wilson finished with game highs in points (24) and rebounds (16) while playing in 39 of a possible 40 minutes. She made the team’s first and last basket of the night, with both shots against Jones in the post.
Time will tell if the MVP race of 2023 will be considered a faux-pas by the media or just a tight race with multiple deserving candidates. But one thing is for certain, when the lights were the brightest and the two best teams in the WNBA competed, Wilson eclipsed everyone on the court to ensure her team came out on top.