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Mission accomplished: Aces capture WNBA title with win over Sun

Updated September 18, 2022 - 6:12 pm

UNCASVILLE, Conn. — Five years ago, A’ja Wilson made her WNBA debut at Mohegan Sun Arena as a member of the Aces.

Sunday, Wilson approached the podium at Mohegan Sun again — 177 WNBA games since her first professional appearance there — only this time as a champion.

“Winning a championship is something no one can ever take away from you,” Wilson said. “Once you’ve got that down, you are in the books forever.”

Wilson and the top-seeded Aces crossed off the final missing award on their résumés Sunday, defeating the Connecticut Sun 78-71 in Game 4 of the WNBA Finals. The Aces won the best-of-five series 3-1, securing the first WNBA championship in the franchise’s history. It’s also the first major-league championship won by a team from Las Vegas.

“This has been the goal since training camp,” Aces coach Becky Hammon said. “Luckily, I’ve got a group of really resilient players.”

WNBA Finals MVP Chelsea Gray led the Aces with 20 points and six assists. Wilson had 11 points and 14 rebounds. The team also received a boost from guard Riquna Williams, who came off the bench to score 17 points.

The Aces’ trio did just enough to overcome another triple-double from Connecticut’s Alyssa Thomas, who had 11 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists.

“It’s amazing,” Gray said, “not only for the franchise, but the city of Vegas.”

Here are three takeaways from the game:

1. Physicality

With 6:50 remaining in the second quarter, Aces guard Kelsey Plum hit Sun guard Natisha Hiedeman near the head while chasing her around a screen.

Hiedeman shoved Plum after the officials blew the play dead, and the Aces’ All-Star responded with sarcastic clapping. Both players were awarded technical fouls.

The incident sparked a 10-2 Sun run, fueled by the rim protection of Jonquel Jones and Connecticut free throws. It was emblematic of the gritty, slow style which defined Game 4 and the WNBA Finals as a whole.

The Sun forced the Aces to play Connecticut’s style of basketball again in Game 4. They slowed the pace and attacked the paint relentlessly. The teams combined for 32 personal fouls and 32 free throws.

“That’s a really good team, a physical team,” Plum said.

2. MVP vs. MVP

Wilson wasn’t the only MVP looking to add a first WNBA championship to her legacy Sunday. Jones, the 2021 WNBA MVP, had another impactful performance in Game 4.

After scoring 20 points in the Sun’s Game 3 win, Jones commanded the lane with defensive authority during Game 4. She had two blocks, a steal and held Wilson to just 11 points on 4 of 13 shooting.

“She’s an MVP for a reason,” Wilson said.

Despite a rough shooting night, Wilson found other ways to help the Aces win. Her 14 rebounds led all players and she also had two blocks and two steals.

3. Williams’ clutch night

It’s not the first time Williams has come up big for the Aces during the playoffs. She scored 14 points during the Aces’ Game 3 overtime win against the Seattle Storm during the semifinals.

However, she saved her best performance for last. Williams scored a season-high 17 points and went 5 of 9 on 3-pointers. She had 11 points in the fourth quarter, including a step-back jumper with 53.2 seconds remaining to keep the Aces ahead by four points.

“People coming in making plays,” Plum said, “that’s what this team has been all year.”

Contact reporter Andy Yamashita at ayamashita@reviewjournal.com. Follow @ANYamashita on Twitter.

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