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Saturday, October 1, 2022

The Las Vegas Aces were the first team to ever win the W.N.B.A. championship

Riquna Williams, who had just twice this postseason scored in double figures, was counted on heavily by the Las Vegas Aces in order to win the title by a squad that had some of the most prominent players in the Women’s National Basketball Association.

After Williams made one tremendous shot after another in the fourth quarter of Game 4 of the championships, she put her index finger to her lips to hush the white-knuckled supporters of the Connecticut Sun. Williams was playing in the finals for the first time. The final of her 17 points came on a jumper that she took with her back to the basket and just inside the 3-point line. The shot went through Natisha Hiedeman’s extended arms. As Sun supporters started to leave the arena, guard Kelsey Plum lifted her hands, while forward Venus Williams went around the floor with her arms extended wide.

On Sunday, the Aces won their first W.N.B.A. championship by defeating the Sun by a score of 78-71 to claim the title. The Aces’ performance in the playoffs reflected the regular-season domination that lead them to tie Chicago for the best record in the league.

The Aces had a lead of as much as ten points at one point but were forced to stave off numerous frantic comeback attempts by the Sun before securing Las Vegas’s third victory in the best-of-five series and claiming the championship in the game’s closing minutes. The most valuable player award for the finals went to Chelsea Gray, who led the Aces in scoring with 20 points and was awarded most valuable player.

Throughout the whole season, Gray and the stacked roster of the Aces kept Las Vegas one step ahead of the rest of the league. Plum was selected as the Most Valuable Player of the All-Star Game, and she was one of the four Aces who were picked to the All-Star team: A’ja Wilson, Jackie Young, Dearica Hamby, and Plum. Wilson was recognised as the best defensive player in the league and was awarded her second league Most Valuable Player award. Becky Hammon was honoured as the league’s coach of the year despite the fact that this was just her first year with the squad.

The Aces have finished second overall in the standings every year except one over the last three campaigns, despite having the best regular-season record in two of those three campaigns. In the finals of the 2020 season, the Seattle Storm easily defeated them. Las Vegas was saddled with the reputation of being a club that was competent enough to win during the regular season but lacked the ability or willingness to make the changes necessary to be successful in the playoffs. Its star-studded lineup seemed to have been too great for its own good. The Aces’ finest players often relied on the kind of isolation basketball in which they excelled, but this strategy prevented the Aces from winning titles.

As the Las Vegas players swarmed the court after the game, a big throng of supporters dressed in red, black, and gold Aces apparel made their way down to the lower floors of Mohegan Sun Arena this year. Gray gained a lot from that particular experience.

The Aces were eliminated from the playoffs by the Phoenix Mercury in the semifinals the year before, and the Mercury celebrated their victory on the Aces’ court. Gray stated the ending has lingered in her head since.

On Sunday, when the final buzzer sounded, the Aces players — who were suddenly victors — shouted and embraced each other. Their cries of pleasure echoed across an otherwise silent stadium, which had only minutes before been shaken by the thundering roars of Sun supporters.

Jonquel Jones, the centre for the Sun, travelled the whole length of the court into the Aces’ celebration to give Wilson a hug and offer her congratulations as the Connecticut players left the court in tears. Before entering the locker room, Jones made a brief stop to applaud and thank the spectators who were still there before continuing on her way. Jones was able to physically dominate the Aces in the Sun’s lone victory of the series, which came in Game 3, and she came close to leading the Sun to another victory in Game 4.

Another dismal ending for a team that has the second most victories in the history of the W.N.B.A. but has never won a title comes courtesy of the setback suffered by the No. 3 seed Sun. Alyssa Thomas, who plays forward for the Sun, recorded a triple-double for the second game in a row. In a Women’s National Basketball Association championship game, she is the only player to ever record a triple-double.

During the time when Hammon was leading the Aces to the top seed, she reported seeing flashes of the type of play that had prevented the Aces from ever winning a championship. However, all of that changed when the Aces defeated the Storm in the semifinals. After the game, Hammon claimed that the players had started “choosing each other” and had learned how to “take a punch.”

That was shown to be accurate as the Aces discovered methods to win postseason games despite the fact that their stars were struggling and they were facing deficits, which is exactly what took place on Sunday. This ultimately shook the perception of a club as one that had unrealized potential.

She said that the Aces had “tremendous leadership” among the players, and that even when they weren’t doing very well throughout the season, they continued to play their best. She praised Williams for coming through for the Aces on Sunday when the Aces had been having trouble scoring.

Dan O'Brien
I am a journalist for The National Era with an emphasis in sports.
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