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Las Vegas plays like Aces, aiming to win second straight WNBA title

Jimmy Myers
Las Vegas plays like Aces, aiming to win second straight WNBA title
The Aces’ Chelsea Gray drives to the basket past New York Liberty’s Betnijah Laney, PHOTO: DAVID BECKER

The Las Vegas Aces blasted the New York Liberty 99-82 in Game 1 of the WNBA championship series on Sunday, tying a league record by winning their sixth straight playoff victory.

Las Vegas Aces guard Jackie Young. PHOTO: LORIE SHAULL

Jackie Young and Kelsey Plum scored 26 points each, playoff career highs for both, to lead the Aces offense. The most valuable player in last year’s finals, point guard Chelsea Gray, chipped in with 20 points, nine assists and six rebounds. She is trying to match her average of 18.2 points, six assists, three rebounds and 1.2 steals during the 2022 finals. A’ja Wilson anchored the inside defense while scoring 19 points, grabbing eight rebounds, blocking three shots and altering several others.

The players known as the “Core Four” unit —Wilson, the defensive anchor; Gray, the floor leader; Young and Plum, the snipers — played stellar defense and rebounded with ferocity while sharing the ball on offense, scoring 91 of the team’s 99 points. “We truly enjoy playing together,” Gray said.

Wilson, regular-season most valuable player and defensive player of the year in 2022, is playing with a particular drive. She was edged out of this year’s regular season MVP Award by Liberty star forward Breanna Stewart.

The Aces start brushes off talk of her disappointment of not winning the award this season.

“My goal is the same as it has always been — to win championships for my team. That has been my thinking since I first started playing basketball,” Wilson said. “This year’s Aces team is on a mission to become the first WNBA back-to-back champions since the Los Angeles Sparks over 20 years ago. That is my only focus.”

This year’s Aces team set a new WNBA regular-season record, going 34-6.

There were a lot of questions about three of those defeats, having come at the hands of the New York Liberty that they are currently matched against in these finals.

“We know that the Liberty beat us three times during the season, including the Commissioner’s Cup game. That is plenty of motivation for us to play our best basketball at this time,” says coach Becky Hammon.

Young and Plum echo the coach’s thinking. “Our job is to finish this season with a WNBA title,” said Young.

Plum chimed it, “Anything short of winning the WNBA title would be a major disappointment.”

The Aces made a powerful statement in the opening act of this best-of-five series, with their guards dominating the backcourt. The trio of Gray, Young and Plum became the first guard tandem in WNBA finals history to each score 20 points with five rebounds in the same game.

The Aces are two wins away from becoming the first back-to-back WNBA champions since the Los Angeles Sparks in 2001 and 2002.

Game 2 is set for Oct. 11 in Las Vegas, before play shifts to Brooklyn for Games 3 and 4 (if necessary). Game 5, if needed, will be back in Las Vegas on Oct. 20.

basketball, Las Vegas Aces, New York Liberty, Sports, WNBA