Las Vegas Aces top off historic season with 2022 WNBA Championship
(Sean Carroll illustration)
Rest vs Rust is phrase that has been echoed throughout the sporting world ad nauseum, but who would win that battle in Game 1? The first quarter saw the Las Vegas Rest find an eight point cushion after ten clinical minutes. The Sun played well and retained their identity throughout this period, but the Aces are the Aces and if they play well for ten minutes, they’ll be in the lead.
It was the same story in the second quarter but with the roles reversed. The Connecticut Sun won this quarter 21-9, bringing the Las Vegas Rust to the fore. Going into the break the Sun had everything going for them, up 38-34, and coming out of the break it was more of the same.
This firmly felt like a 1-0 Sun lead to start the WNBA Finals: not only were they fantastic, they made the Aces look mortal. Connecticut retained a buffer throughout the first half of the third quarter and if we continued business as usual, then Las Vegas were guaranteeing themselves a loss.
At 50-44 and 4:33 left in the third, Dearica Hamby entered the game for Kelsey Plum. After a cameo in the second round, these were Hamby’s first real minutes of the playoffs, and by god, did she turn this game on its head. She had an offensive rebound which led to a putback, which preceded an assist on a Riquna Williams three-pointer, which preceded a steal, which preceded an o-board and a dish which led to A’ja Wilson free throws. After this stretch and these freebies, the Aces were up 53-52.
The score was 55-53 Aces to start the final term and they never gave it away after this. Although this should have been an eventful last quarter, there was a feel the Aces weren’t giving up the scoreboard, and they didn’t. 1-0 Aces.
An almost wire-to-wire affair saw a depleted and straight-up bad Connecticut Sun team look as if their season was over after Game 2. If A’ja’s getting 26, Chelsea Gray is adding 21 and Kelsey Plum has 20 of her own, the Las Vegas Aces win that game every time.
After having been on the road for (a very eventful) eight days, Connecticut finally got some home cooking in Game 3. Ball went up and the crowd had been wild for a while now. On the Aces side, A’ja starts off with a pair of buckets, Chelsea breaks your heart with one of her patented contested pull-ups and Jackie Young hits on two three-balls.
With seven minutes on the clock, Las Vegas has 12 points. On the Sun side, Jonquel Jones converts on a pair of free throws and Alyssa Thomas hits a one-hander, but for the most part, there wasn’t much to inspire hope for the fans at the Mohegan Sun arena. With seven minutes on the clock, Connecticut had four points. A less than ideal start for a team with their backs against the wall and a fantastic start for a team looking to ice the series tonight.
Natisha Heideman made good on a three-ball, injecting some of the fans’ energy on to the court and into her teammates. DeWanna Bonner made a layup on a Thomas pass. Jackie Young hit her third three for the quarter, but the Sun aren’t discouraged. Jonquel’s turn to finish a layup on a Thomas pass. Courtney Williams banged on a three and then the Sun were rolling, where had this been?
If you blinked you’d miss it: at the end of the first term the Sun were up 34-19. A 30-7 run in the last seven minutes of the first and the second quarter was merely kick-ons. More impressive than the Sun’s hyper efficient offence was what they were doing on the other end. The Aces were on 19 points with seven minutes remaining in the half. From the seven minute mark of the first quarter to the seven minute mark of the second quarter they held the Aces to seven points.
I don’t have to fact check that, that is absolutely the worst ten minute stretch for Las Vegas all season. Connecticut kept a around a 20-point gap on the scoreboard for the next five minutes, even with the Aces starting to regain some purpose and energy.
With 1:25 left in the half Connecticut were up 19, with 0 seconds on the clock Connecticut were up 14, and after Plum’s heave converted, we went into the locker room with Connecticut up 11.
After the nature of that first half, Las Vegas were feeling very confident only down 11. Their ability to go on a one minute run at the end of the half showed their resolve and just how much damage they can do in such a short amount of time. A tightly fought third quarter was won 27-24 by the Aces to cut the lead to eight going into the fourth quarter.
The third saw another momentum shift and a game that looked to be decided in the first half was now back in question. 77-69 to Connecticut set the scene for what should’ve been a classic finish, but that statement couldn’t be more wrong. The Sun tucked the Aces away. At 4:22 remaining Becky Hammon took the hint, clearing her bench.
At this point it was 94-76 Connecticut, and it would finish 105-76 for the home team. The Aces didn’t even beat the Sun’s third quarter score. Alyssa Thomas had the first triple double in WNBA Finals history, Jonquel Jones had 20 points on 8-12 shooting and the Sun had the win.
We stay in Connecticut, with Las Vegas up 2-1. Game 4 started in quicksand, a 16-6 scoreboard in favour of the Aces with a touch under three minutes left in the first. It must’ve be wedding season in Connecticut because there were misses everywhere. The Sun score six unanswered to end the quarter 16-12, a stark contrast to Game 3. Williams hit a three for the Sun to cut the lead to one, which was answered by Plum on the other end, instigating a mini run for Las Vegas.
It was an uncharacteristically inefficient postseason for Plum, but she has had an ability to score when the Aces needed a bucket in Game 4. Las Vegas found themselves up 25-15 with six and a half minutes left in the second. A 36-second possession, including two jump balls, ended with Courtney Williams hitting a midi; an unrivalled embodiment of Connecticut’s postseason.
This also sparked a run by the Sun, who tied up the affair at 25. An arm wrestle in the last minute of the half took us into the break at 30-28 Aces. This arm wrestle spilled into the third quarter and saw the Aces up 43-42 with four and a half left on the clock. Highlights from this stretch included Chelsea Gray going 4/4, Connecticut’s back court hitting a three each, Jonquel connecting on back to back jimbos and Jackie Young slotting in between those Jones jumpshots with a triple of her own.
A valiant showing from all players in Game 4 left WNBA playoff viewers feeling spoilt, once again. A messy, tough finish to the third term saw countless free throws and a four-point lead for Las Vegas going into the fourth 53-49.
After trading baskets to start the fourth, Riquna Williams hits a three that took the air out of the gym for a brief moment. The Aces had their lead at six before DeWanna Bonner hit a three and Brionna Jones hit a midi.
With the lead at one now, the Aces had one player to go to; Kelsey Plum. Plum made good on a three when her team needed it, stretching the Las Vegas lead back to four. The Aces were up six with 3:55 left in the game and on the Sun’s next play down, Plum got called for a reckless closeout on a three-pointer. Three shots and possession and Connecticut came out of it with five points and a one-point deficit.
After Williams (Courtney this time) split a pair of free throws and hit a jumper, she gave her team a two-point lead. Williams (Riquna this time) netted herself a three and took the lead back for Las Vegas. Brionna Jones converted two free throws and brought Connecticut up by one.
Next play down and Riquna hit another three to snag that lead back for the Aces. Bitta nothing for 40 seconds, then Riquna hit a deep two for her tenth and 11th points for the final quarter and a four-point Las Vegas lead.
The Aces closed the last minute of this one out professionally and delivered the first major league title to the city of Las Vegas. The Finals MVP announcement was merely a formality, Chelsea Gray obviously owned this award, her play throughout the playoffs was downright stupid.
Your 2022 WNBA champions; the Las Vegas Aces.