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Las Vegas Aces Beat Sun for First WNBA Championship


UNCASVILLE, Conn. — With a championship on the road for a team with among the W.N.B.A.’s biggest stars, the Las Vegas Aces leaned on Riquna Williams, who had scored in double digits just twice this postseason.

Williams raised her index finger to her lips to silence the Connecticut Sun’s white-knuckled fans in Game 4 of the finals as she hit one big shot after one other within the fourth quarter. The last of her 17 points got here on a step-back shot just contained in the 3-point line over the outstretched arms of Natisha Hiedeman. Guard Kelsey Plum raised her hands, and Williams ran across the court together with her arms spread wide as Sun fans began to go away.

The Aces defeated the Sun, 78-71, on Sunday to win their first W.N.B.A. championship, their postseason reflecting the regular-season dominance that led them to tie Chicago for the perfect record within the league.

The Aces led by as many as 10 but needed to fight off several furious rallies by the Sun before clinching the title in the ultimate minutes of Las Vegas’s third win within the best-of-five series. Chelsea Gray led the Aces with 20 points and was named the most precious player of the finals.

“I worked so hard for this,” Gray said as she became emotional and her teammates cheered.

Gray and the Aces’ loaded roster kept Las Vegas a step ahead of the league all season. 4 Aces were named All-Stars — A’ja Wilson, Plum, Jackie Young and Dearica Hamby — and Plum was voted M.V.P. of the All-Star Game. Wilson won her second league M.V.P. Award and was named the defensive player of the yr. Becky Hammon, in her first season with the team, was named the league’s coach of the yr.

But coming into Game 4, Williams, who scored 11 points within the fourth quarter, hadn’t scored greater than 14 points all season. The Sun held Wilson to only 11 points on Sunday, her third-lowest scoring performance of the playoffs.

“I got a bunch of really resilient players,” Hammon said, adding: “You saw different people step up at different moments tonight and that’s what makes us difficult to beat.”

The Aces finished with the perfect regular-season record in two of the past three seasons and second within the yr they didn’t finish first. The Seattle Storm swept them within the 2020 finals. Las Vegas had shouldered the status of being a team ok to win within the regular season but unable — or willing — to make the adjustments needed to reach the postseason. Its star-laden roster was seemingly too talented for its own good, with the perfect players often leaning on the isolation basketball they excel in but that has kept the Aces from closing out championships.

This yr, a big group of fans in red, black and gold Aces gear made their way right down to the lower levels of Mohegan Sun Arena because the Las Vegas players flooded the court after the sport. It was a useful moment for Gray.

“I’ve been on two teams and that was loud,” Gray said of the Aces fans. “They’re going to rejoice us, and we’re going to rejoice them.”

Last season, the Aces lost the decisive Game 5 of the semifinals to the Phoenix Mercury, who celebrated on the Aces’ home floor. Gray said that ending had stuck in her mind since.

“And now I’ll just have a special replay in my head,” Gray said with a smile.

Because the buzzer sounded on Sunday, the Aces players — now champions — yelled and hugged one another, their cheers of pleasure bouncing around an otherwise quiet stadium that had been rocked with the deafening roars of Sun fans just moments before.

As Connecticut players exited the court in tears, Sun center Jonquel Jones walked the length of the ground into the Aces’ celebration to hug and congratulate Wilson. As Jones walked away, she paused to clap and thank the fans that remained before heading to the locker room. Jones dominated the Aces physically within the Sun’s lone win of the series in Game 3, and he or she nearly led them to a different victory in Game 4.

Wilson spoke highly of Jones after the sport.

“I needed to go and speak to her because she played her heart out,” Wilson said of Jones, who was last season’s M.V.P. “It’s so hard to protect her, and I just have all essentially the most respect for J.J.”

The loss for the Sun, the No. 3 seed, is one other disappointing finish for a franchise with the second most wins in W.N.B.A. history but no championships. For the second straight game, Sun forward Alyssa Thomas had a triple-double. She is the one player to have a triple-double in a W.N.B.A. finals game.

Hammon said it was a “battle” to beat the Sun. “We knew it wasn’t going to be easy,” she said.

Bill Laimbeer, who had been the Aces’ coach for 4 years, stepped down before the season. The Aces hired Hammon, who had been an assistant with the N.B.A.’s San Antonio Spurs. She took over a team led by Wilson, who won her first M.V.P. Award in 2020.

As Hammon guided the Aces to the primary seed, she said she saw glimpses of the kind of play that had kept the Aces from winning a title. But that shifted within the Aces’ semifinal win over the Storm, during which Hammon said the players were “selecting one another” and learned methods to “take a punch.”

That proved true because the Aces found ways to win playoff games while their stars struggled they usually faced deficits — precisely what happened on Sunday — finally shaking the status of a team with unfulfilled potential.

Hammon thanked Laimbeer for putting the team together and praised her players.

“What I’m most pleased with is we became an actual team out here, and a team that cares about one another and trusts one another,” she said.

Hammon said it was a “little surreal” to win her first W.N.B.A. championship. She played within the league for greater than a decade, including several seasons with the Las Vegas franchise when it was in San Antonio.

She said the Aces had “tremendous leadership” among the many players, and that that they had continued after they weren’t playing well through the season. She applauded Williams for coming through on Sunday when the Aces had been struggling to attain.

“She knows she’s got the last word green light,” Hammon said.

Wilson also spoke about growth — hers and the team’s.

“I do know who I’m now greater than ever,” Wilson said. “I feel like I’ve established myself on this league. And the Aces aren’t done yet.”

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