UNCASVILLE, Conn. (AP) — Las Vegas has never had a professional sports champion — until Sunday.
Chelsea Gray scored 20 points to lead the Las Vegas Aces to their first WNBA title and the city’s first pro title, in a 78-71 road win over the Connecticut Sun in Game 4.
Gray went 9 of 13 from the floor and was named Finals MVP after averaging 18.3 points in the series.
Vegas finished on an 8-0 run. As the buzzer sounded, league MVP A’ja Wilson, who played every minute of the game, grabbed the ball and stomped on the ground before being mobbed by her teammates.
“We champions! We champions! We champions! Wilson gave a shout out to his teammates as they donned their championship hats and t-shirts ahead of the trophy presentation ceremony.
Riquna Williams had 17 points for Vegas, Kelsey Plum added 16 points, Jackie Young had 13 and Wilson added 11 points to go along with his 14 rebounds.
Wilson hopes this is just the beginning of the franchise.
“You see it. You see it,” Wilson said during the on-pitch celebration. “
Courtney Williams had 17 points to lead Connecticut and Alyssa Thomas had her second straight triple-double with 11 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds. Jonquel Jones added 13 points and DeWanna Bonner 12.
“When you miss it definitely hurts a lot,” Sun’s coach Curt Miller said. “But it means there was something that mattered and something special about that group of players.”
For Aces coach Becky Hammon, who went untitled during her stellar WNBA career, the ring has completed a decades-long quest. She left an assistant coaching position with Gregg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs to take over in Las Vegas. The move paid off.
“They’re amazing on the pitch, but first and foremost they’re amazing humans,” Hammon said. “They care about each other. They invest in each other. It was an absolute honor to be their coach. I saw excellence and wanted to be part of it.
Hammon also paid tribute to former Aces coach Bill Laimbeer, who was present at the ceremony: “He put this team together and saw the pieces.”
Aces owner Mark Davis, who also owns the NFL’s Las Vegas Raiders, was not with his football team on Sunday. He was in Connecticut to get a trophy. He hoisted it up, then handed it over to cheerful players who did the same.
“Las Vegas, we’re world champions,” Davis said.
The Aces led by two points at halftime and four points after three quarters. They held a six-point lead in the fourth when Plum was called for a flagrant foul after hitting Bonner as the Sun guard attempted a 3-pointer and sent him to the ground grabbing his right ankle.
Bonner hit all three free throws before Jones’ short jumper cut the lead to one point. The Sun then tied the game at 67 on a Courtney Williams free throw and took a 71-70 lead on two fouls by Brionna Jones.
But Las Vegas had the answers.
Riquna Williams’ 3-pointer put the Aces back in the lead and Gray’s jumper extended the lead to 75-71 with less than a minute left. A’ja Wilson then stole a pass and Plum hit a short jump to secure the victory.
As expected, it was a physical game — played appropriately on an NFL Sunday. The Sun got scared when Bonner inadvertently took an elbow in the gut from Gray late in the first quarter and he was down for a few minutes before being helped to the bench. She returned to the game later in the half, apparently suffering no ill effects. Natisha Hiedeman and Plum got into a short pushing game in the second quarter, causing technical fouls for both players. It was all before Plum’s flagrant in fourth.
NO GRAY ZONE
Gray was not a WNBA star this season, nor a first-team pick in any league, and had expressed his displeasure about it. After scoring 21 points in each of the first two games in the Finals, she only scored 11 points in Game 3, but bounced back. Way back.
“They can keep this All-Star and first team,” Gray said. “I have the ring.”
Before the match, the two coaches reflected on the composition of the organizations in the final. The Aces are led by Hammon and two black female executives in chief executive Nikki Williams and president of business operations Nikki Fargas. The Suns belong to the Mohegan tribe, have a female president in the person of Jen Rizzotti and are coached by Curt Miller, a homosexual.
“Women’s basketball is such a story in terms of diversity and inclusion. I mean, our league defines it and I’m so proud to be a part of it,” Miller said, adding that he hopes to be an inspiration to any gay kid “wondering if they can pursue a career in the sport “.
Hammon said she thinks the diversity of her team’s front office has made her stronger
“You can make a much better picture with a box full of colored pencils than just a pencil,” she said.
VEGAS PRIDE AND PARADE
The start of the celebration was broadcast on video screens at the Raiders’ stadium during the NFL game against Arizona on Sunday, to cheers from fans.
They can cheer more in a few days: a parade on the Las Vegas Strip is scheduled for Thursday evening.
“What a team, what talent, what a victory! You made Las Vegas so proud! Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman said in a statement. “Thank you for your effort, discipline and focus. We can’t wait for the celebrations and a great parade!”
Wilson said after the game that parade-goers should be ready for a party: “When you come to the parade, you better be four-gunned. If you ain’t four-gunned, don’t come.”
The Aces improved to 4-0 in this year’s playoffs with two days off. …Vegas is the fourth WNBA team to win a title with both a league MVP and Coach of the Year…The Sun fell short after being among the last four WNBA teams standing for each of the four past seasons, returning to the Finals for the first time since 2019.
“Nobody expected us to be here,” Bonner said. “They expected us to lose to Chicago. They expected us to lose to Dallas. Despite all this, we reached the final.
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