The Las Vegas Aces are WNBA champions—again.
For the first time since 2002, the WNBA has a back-to-back Finals winner, and it only makes sense that Las Vegas—now indisputably a budding dynasty—holds that honor. The Aces went 34-6 in the 2023 regular season, posted the best efficiency differential (15.3 net rating) of any WNBA team since the Houston Comets in 2000 and sent four players to the 2023 All-Star game. So it seemed inevitable that, given good health, they’d at least get a chance to defend their 2022 title.
The Aces’ domination defined the first two rounds of the playoffs
That’s just what the Aces did. Las Vegas breezed through its first two postseason matchups, making quick work of the Chicago Sky in the first round and sweeping the Dallas Wings in the second. Only one of these fives games was particularly close, as the Wings made a spirited effort on their home court but were unable to hold off an Aces comeback in the third and final game of the semifinals. Through those first two rounds, the numbers reflected just how good the Aces were. Against Chicago and Dallas, Las Vegas played even better defensively than over the course of the regular season, outdoing its own league-best defense and allowing just 88.4 points per 100 possessions.
It’s part of what typically makes historically great teams so successful, after all. Much of the focus in 2023 was on the Aces’ unstoppable offense—and for good reason. In Kelsey Plum, Jackie Young and Chelsea Gray, Las Vegas has a trio of guards that is unmatched in its ability to manufacture offense, whether it be off the bounce or from behind the 3-point line. Each player also can be used individually to hunt favorable matchups, making the perimeter unit as a whole practically impossible to guard. Factor in forward A’ja Wilson, who had her best offensive season to date in 2023 (career-high 22.8 points per game and a 62.7 percent true shooting percentage), and you get an offensive juggernaut with virtually no weaknesses.
Don’t let the Aces’ strengths on the other end of the court go unnoticed, though. They say that “defense wins championships” in professional basketball. And while that phrase may be oversimplifying things, there’s plenty of truth to it, too. The Aces continued to prove that they can win low-scoring games when it mattered most: in the WNBA Finals.
The Aces showed the heart of a champion against the Liberty
The 2023 WNBA Finals matchup was predicted by many all the way back in February, when the New York Liberty assembled a star-studded group of players. The addition of forwards Breanna Stewart and Jonquel Jones—two former league MVPs—immediately brought the star-caliber talent needed to win a title. Championship-winning point guard Courtney Vandersloot added that extra playmaking and leadership dimension to a starting lineup that already included young stars Sabrina Ionescu and Betnijah Laney. New York, it seemed, had become a championship contender nearly overnight, and was the only team in the league that had the star power to match Las Vegas.
It wasn’t much of a surprise, then, when the two teams met in the Finals. New York’s statistical profile was almost as good as the Aces’, ranking second in the WNBA in offensive efficiency and third in defensive efficiency, and the Liberty were the only team to beat the Aces more than once in the regular season. Although New York had a bit of a harder time reaching the Finals than the Vegas did, it was still clear that the 2023 WNBA championship would be won by one of the league’s best two teams.
It was evident early in the series, however, that the Aces still had the upper hand. Las Vegas won its first two games at home handily, setting a record along the way by scoring the most points (203) in regulation in consecutive Finals games, according to the Across the Timeline database. These games—a 99-82 series-opening win followed by a 104-76 beatdown—showcased Las Vegas’ usual mastery of offensive efficiency, with the Aces shooting well over 50 percent from the field and 40 percent on 3-pointers in both games while also racking up 52 total assists against just 20 turnovers.
It was when the series shifted to New York, though, that the Aces showed what they were truly made of. In the waning seconds of Game 3—a game in which Las Vegas’ offense had run uncharacteristically cold (33.3 percent shooting)—Gray went down with what appeared to be a lower leg injury and had to be helped off the court. The prognosis, while unspecific, was not good: Gray was ruled out ahead of Game 4, leaving the Aces scrambling to make up for her scoring (15.3 points per game; 42.1 percent 3-point shooting) and playmaking (7.3 assists per game; third in the WNBA).
Making matters worse, starting center Kiah Stokes also was ruled out with a foot injury, joining the legendary Candace Parker (who had been dealing with a foot injury of her own since the season’s midway point) as Aces frontcourt players who would be unavailable. Las Vegas, already a team extremely dependent on its starting lineup, was suddenly stretched thinner than it had been at any point in the regular season. The Liberty coming back to win the series seemed like a very real possibility.
What happened next came as a surprise to no one—at least, no one who had watched Wilson’s ascent from a No. 1 overall draft pick to All-Star and two-time league MVP.
The Aces, who looked for much of Game 4 like a team finally experiencing the fatigue expected of a top-heavy roster missing several of its key players, were not at their best—but they ensured the Liberty weren’t, either. Though the Aces, clearly missing Gray’s vast offensive repertoire, scored just 30 points in the first half, they spent most of the game within striking distance, limiting Jones and Ionescu with swarming defense while keeping the game near-even on the boards and the free throw line until it was time for their superstar to take over.
And take over, Wilson did. A personal 9-0 run in the third quarter ate into most the Liberty lead. She and Young then combined to score 15 of the Aces’ 17 points in the final frame, asserting that even running on fumes, Las Vegas was still the team to beat in the WNBA—and that the rest of the league will have to wait until 2024 to get another opportunity. The Aces leaned on their defense one more time, with Young and veteran forward Alysha Clark blowing up the Liberty’s last gasp out of a timeout as the final buzzer announced the crowning of back-to-back champions.
The Aces passed every test to become back-to-back champs
Statistically, the Aces were unmatched in 2023—there’s no doubt about that. The number of records they broke and the sheer dominance with which they cruised through the majority of their schedule will make them one of the first teams that comes to mind when discussing the greatest performances in WNBA history.
It’s how the Aces finished their second consecutive championship run, though, that will stick in fans’ memories. Even the best teams are inevitably tested in one way or another. And though the Aces’ test came at the most inopportune time, they still passed with flying colors, proving that they’re just as adept at “winning ugly” as they are by huge margins—and that those wins can be celebrated all the same.