What’s a little more adversity to a proven winner? If you ask the Las Vegas Aces, the answer is not much as the team put the finishing touches on a second straight WNBA championship.
After losing two members of its starting lineup, Las Vegas conquered New York, 70-69, Wednesday, Oct. 18 from the Barclays Center in Game 4 of the WNBA Finals. In addition, this marked the ninth meeting of the season in total between the two squads. Prior to this outcome, the Aces were 0-3 on the Liberty’s homecourt.
“It’s who we are,” forward A’ja Wilson said. “We’re professionals, we’re ready when our names are called and we kept the main thing the main thing. This shit wasn’t easy at all.”
With its second straight title, Las Vegas became the league’s first repeat champion since the 2001-02 Los Angeles Sparks, becoming the third team in history to accomplish the feat.
“It’s historical,” forward Alysha Clark said. “There’s a reason it hasn’t been done in that long of a time period. It’s hard to do. It’s hard to get to the finals multiple times, I’ve been around this league long enough.”
Head coach Becky Hammon picks up her second title to conclude her second season in the big seat. In doing so, she became just the third person in NBA and WNBA history to win a championship in each of her first two years as a head coach.
Moreover, Hammon is now 16-3 all-time in the playoffs during her tenure with the Aces.
“I think we ended the year 42-7,” she said. “This one is sweeter, it just is, it’s harder to do. We went from darling to villain real quick. We had our good names slandered and all these women did was lock in together.”
Instead of preparing for a Game 5 which would’ve been set for Friday, Oct. 20 from the Michelob Ultra Arena, Las Vegas will now be drawing up its second championship parade in the last 13 months.
It was a defensive stance in the final seconds of regulation that clinched the title for the Aces, forcing Liberty guard Courtney Vandersloot into a rushed two-pointer that overshot the basket.
“That’s when it hit that we were champions,” Wilson said. “I didn’t cry on the last one, I was very surprised but this one just meant a lot because of what we’ve been through. We really got it out the mud.”
Las Vegas held New York to just 46 points after the first quarter resulting in the first game with clutch time in this series. Clutch time is classified as “the last four minutes of regulation or overtime with the game within six points.”
As they have all season long, the Aces used a dominant third quarter to climb its way back into the game on the heels of a 23-12 frame. Earlier in the quarter, the Liberty had a lead as large as 12 points.
During an 18-5 run, Wilson scored nine straight points on her way to a 24-point, 16-rebound outing. She is now the first player to have multiple games with 20 points and 15 rebounds in league history.
After the game, she was awarded with the Finals MVP award.
“She’s just been doing what she’s been doing all season,” Clark said. “To be able to be here on the biggest stage and show up the way she’s showed up just speaks to who she is as a player, what she means to this team and what she means to this franchise.”
Las Vegas would build a lead as large as seven points in the fourth quarter while holding New York to 2-for-15 shooting during the game-changing stretch.
“When we lost [forward Kiah Stokes], that took our anchor from us,” Wilson said. “She’s normally there to help me when I fall so I knew I had to make sure that my guards understood that they could trust me.”
Entering the second straight potential series-clinching game, the Aces came into play missing 40% of their starting lineup with the aforementioned Stokes and guard Chelsea Gray both missing the game with foot injuries. This came in addition to being without forward Candace Parker, who has been out since early July.
As a result, Hammon and company put out a starting lineup of Wilson and Clark in the front court with fellow forward Cayla George alongside guards Kelsey Plum and Jackie Young. That combination played just eight minutes together during the regular season.
“At the end of the day, you see our five or our six but everyday I’m with those other ones,” Hammon said. “Everyday they’re with the five and six that play the bulk of the minutes. I know exactly who I am, I knew Cayla was going to hit threes [and] I knew it would change it. I knew [guard Sydney Colson] was going to get into some faces and almost foul out but at the end of the day be +17.”
Clark converted back-to-back layups during a 7-0 run to tie the game at 51 apiece. Moments later, she’d knock down a free throw to give Las Vegas its first lead since 9-8. In the fourth quarter, Clark would be matched up defensively against league MVP Breanna Stewart resulting in an offensive foul one time down and a forced pass on the final possession of the game.
Earning the victory means a third title for Clark during her 11-year career.
“This isn’t something I could’ve dreamt for myself,” she said. “I started in this league and I didn’t make a team the first two years – Becky was my vet [...] Not a lot of players have three championships.”
George added 11 points including three made threes to go along with three steals. Young chipped in with 16 points on 6-of-11 from the field.