The Aces may have been down, but were never out

The Las Vegas Aces are two wins away from taking home what would be their first title after they took down the Connecticut Sun on Sunday in a narrow 67-64 victory.

With the series shaping up to be tight contests between two teams — who were evenly matched during the regular season — here are four takeaways from Game 1 of the WNBA Finals.

A’ja Wilson is Her

A’ja Wilson posted a 24-point, 11 rebound double-double, and first Finals double-double in franchise history. It was the second game of 20 or more points in a WNBA Finals appearance for Wilson, but she didn’t take the victory for granted.

“It was a game we needed. It was a game we needed, not necessarily because it’s our first win — it’s because it’s something that this is huge for us,” said Wilson post-game.

“These are statement games in a way and when you are playing a good team like Conn, you have to really lock in at all costs. It was good to have a game underneath our belt.”

Wilson scored 10 points in the third quarter to revive Las Vegas and fuel their comeback after an underwhelming second quarter, and the defensive player of the year had three blocks in the fourth to keep Connecticut from stealing the win away.

On a night where Jackie Young tipped in only 11 points and Kelsey Plum was held to just six, Wilson proved why she was the league’s most valuable player, as she commanded the efforts on both sides of the ball to ensure Las Vegas got their first Finals win in franchise history.

The Gray-tness continues, but the Point Gawd wants more from herself

Chelsea Gray’s insane semifinal performance had many people questioning if her shooting and scoring stats were sustainable, as she averaged 23.8 points on 76 per cent true shooting in the playoffs leading up to the final.

Twenty-one points later, Gray silenced any doubters as she recorded her seventh playoff game of 20 or more points, which moved her to fourth on the franchise career list of players, despite playing for the Aces for just two seasons.

Gray did have six turnovers against a high-pressure Connecticut defence that contributed to a season-low eight assists for the Aces, but the team’s point guard knows her role and even when her shots fall, she is part of the team’s overall success in perimeter shooting.

“I just have to do a better job of not turning the basketball over, and when we are able to play out of our defence, that’s when we are flowing and kicking, penetrate, kick, hitting shooters and that’s a style of play that we want to do,” said Gray.

“Ten turnovers isn’t bad but I had freaking six of them. Just being locked in offensively a little bit more but it won’t be the same next game.”

Connecticut won’t go down without a fight

The Aces took the first quarter lead in the game with ease as they created an eight-point gap. But as the Sun have proven time and time again, they are not to be counted out.

In the second quarter, Connecticut held Las Vegas to just 20 per cent shooting, and Jonquel Jones tipped in eight points that helped the Sun gain a four-point lead going into the half, 38-34.

And even when Las Vegas took the lead back, scoring 21 third-quarter points and outscoring the Sun 13-3 to close out the third, Connecticut fought back in the fourth. They almost erased a seven-point deficit with just over a minute left to play as Alyssa Thomas hit back-to-back shots to pull Connecticut within three.

DeWanna Bonner’s thee-point attempt to tie the game fell short, but Connecticut proved they had a team that had stamina and talent to fight to the finish as Thomas led the team with 19 points and 11 rebounds.

Jonquel Jones added 15 points, Brionna Jones scored 12 points off the bench and Natasha Hiedeman added 10 points — the Sun were the more dominant team in many areas as their bench outscored the Aces bench 12-5, dominated in the paint and scored easily in transition — but they just couldn’t stop Wilson and Gray.

Las Vegas’ Sixth Woman shows resilience in second half

After allowing the Sun to dominate in the second quarter and carry their momentum in the third, the Aces were in need of a second wind to help them claw back to the lead and control the rest of the game.

As Dearica Hamby came off the bench, after missing most of the first two rounds with a knee injury, she proved why she is a two-time Sixth Woman of the Year and had earned starting minutes for the Aces in 2022.

Hamby grabbed three rebounds, a crucial put-back basket, dished two assists and fought for a steal in her 11 minutes of play to help Las Vegas climb to a 55-53 lead going into the final quarter, turning a six-point point deficit into a two-point lead that would carry them into the fourth.

“She was phenomenal, she was ready to go,” head coach Becky Hammon said about Hamby.

“I just got to the point where I was like ‘My biggest, baddest beast is sitting over there, I’ve just got to throw her in.’ They want to play a rough game — she’s my girl.”

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