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3 takeaways: Gray’s return sparks Aces’ romp past Storm — PHOTOS

Updated June 19, 2024 - 11:01 pm

The Seattle Storm could have thrown the ball right into the stands and it wouldn’t have mattered to a single fan at Michelob Ultra Arena on Wednesday.

Despite the developing play on the court, all eyes were turned to the scorers’ table, where Chelsea Gray was crouched and waiting for her chance to enter the game.

With 1:41 remaining in the first quarter of the Aces’ 94-83 win over the Storm, the “Point Gawd” stepped foot on the court for her season debut.

Gray recorded one point on a free throw with seven assists, four rebounds and two blocks in 16 minutes in the victory.

Jackie Young led the Aces (7-6) with 32 points. A’ja Wilson had 27, continuing her WNBA record-smashing streak of games with at least 20 points (18). Nneka Ogwumike had 21 points for the Storm (9-6).

This was the moment the Aces had been waiting for since Gray sustained a left foot injury in Game 3 of the 2023 WNBA Finals against the New York Liberty. She briefly waved to the crowd and proceeded to make magic.

It took her less than 20 seconds to go for a behind-the-back pass and eventually find Alysha Clark for an assist on a corner 3-pointer.

“I was anxious all day,” Gray said. “Just a lot of emotion. It’s been a long time since I’ve been out on the court. But the fans, they were amazing from the time I came out to warm up, to the time I checked into the game. It was great, and just a rush and a feeling that I missed a lot.”

She admitted that it wasn’t an easy road. Her wife, Tipesa, and their son, Lennox, were at the game, along with her parents, to offer support.

“There’s been tears, there’s been happy tears. It’s been sad. It’s been frustration. But it’s all part of the process, right?” Gray added. “And you get back and you’re better for it.”

The Aces next host the Connecticut Sun at 7 p.m. Friday.

Here are three takeaways from the win:

1. Changes with Chelsea

From the opening tip to the final buzzer, the Aces were a new team. That would have been true even without Gray’s comeback, due to a new face on the court and change in the starting lineup.

Aces coach Becky Hammon switched out Clark to give recent addition Tiffany Hayes her first start with the team. Clark and Hayes both scored 10 points.

“A lot of it is just by feel,” Hammon said of her lineup decisions. “We had intended on taking Jackie out probably a little earlier today, but she was cooking. I think the biggest thing is just that we’re starting to get Chelsea’s presence, (which) is such a calming factor out there.”

The Aces’ newest signee, Jessika Carter, also made her debut for the team, entering for Wilson in the final minute of garbage time after both teams’ starters were pulled.

2. ‘An inflection point’

Storm coach Noelle Quinn said pregame that she knew the Aces were at an “inflection point.”

Bolstered by the return of Gray and the increased edge Hammon has emphasized that she’s looking for, Quinn called the Aces “dangerous.”

Young was already up to 14 points at the end of the first quarter as the Aces got off to a 29-16 lead, proving Quinn right.

Young received high praise from Gray for adapting to a new position in her absence.

“That girl is so good, y’all,” Gray repeated a few times from the podium.

The biggest improvement for the Aces was perimeter defense, as they held the Storm to 25 percent shooting from the 3-point line.

“You can tell it was a priority for them,” Hammon said. “There’s a sense of urgency. And that’s what we need.”

Storm guard Jewell Loyd was held to one point on 0-of-9 shooting. She led Seattle with 25 points when the Aces fell to the Storm 78-65 on June 7.

3. Not sticking to sports

The lead-up to the action on the court was a reminder that the WNBA has never just stuck to sports.

The Aces and Storm celebrated Juneteenth during the contest, and Quinn gave a heartfelt pregame address about her role as one of just three Black coaches in the league.

Clark, the Aces’ alternate representative in the WNBA Players Association, made time before warming up to speak about reproductive rights in a news conference with Xavier Becerra, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services secretary, and Caroline Mello Roberson, Reproductive Freedom of America Nevada director of state campaigns.

The Aces went 2-3 in the recent Commissioner’s Cup in-season competition, raising $9,000 for Reproductive Freedom of America.

Contact Callie Lawson-Freeman at clawsonfreeman@reviewjournal.com. Follow @CallieJLaw on X.

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