Whether it was capturing last year’s Commissioner’s Cup MVP or whether it was capturing the last year’s WNBA Finals MVP, guard Chelsea Gray rose to the occasion time and time again for the Las Vegas Aces.
Sustained by steady play all season, Gray concluded last year with 13.7 points per game to go along with a career-high 6.1 assists per game coupled with more than a steal and a half per contest. This included an August stretch where she averaged nearly 21 points a game including posting a career-high 33 points.
“She’s the best point guard in the world,” two-time all-star teammate Kelsey Plum said. “She’s the starting point guard on the olympic team, she’s an all-star, she’s an all-WNBA player. She’s the clutchest player in the WNBA – ask anyone, ask any [general manager], coach, player.”
Prior to that August run, Gray helped lead Las Vegas to a 10-point win in the Commissioner’s Cup championship game on the road against the Chicago Sky. A 19-point, five assists and four rebound effort netted the Bay Area native the Most Valuable Player award for the midseason championship.
She scored 11 of her 19 points in the second half, something that has become a staple for the Aces over the years. Earlier that month, Gray shut the door on the Minnesota Lynx after scoring seven points in the fourth quarter including five straight points to help put the finishing touches on a six-point win.
No matter the situation, Las Vegas has continued to turn to Gray as the team’s closer. Bear in mind, this is a team that houses talents the likes of Plum, two-time MVP A’ja Wilson and two-time all-star Jackie Young.
“Just having that mentality,” Gray said. “There’s moments in the game where the clock is just different but you’ve practiced that shot a thousand times. So just being in that mode and having that mindset is always important.”
The midseason recognition for Gray came a little more than two weeks after she missed the league’s annual all-star game. Despite the Aces having four members of their team named to the midseason exhibition, Gray was the lone starter left out of the mix.
All things considered, Gray captured the Commissioner’s Cup MVP in Chicago, the same city that hosted last year’s all-star game.
Following that poignant run in August, Gray did her best work in the playoffs as she helped guide Las Vegas to its first title in franchise history and first professional title for the state as a whole.
During the team’s postseason run, Gray averaged 21.7 points per game on 61% shooting from the field including a 54% mark from three-point range. Her scoring punch included scoring 20 or more points in seven of the team’s 10 playoff games.
She also added seven assists per contest while recording two point-assists double-doubles in back-to-back games against Seattle. With a 31-point, 10-assist night against the Storm, Gray became the first player in league history to reach those numbers in a playoff game.
“It’s just in her DNA,” head coach Becky Hammon said during last year’s playoff run. “She is just stone cold with the game on the line. It’s a luxury, you can just put the ball in her hands and let her go to work.”
After claiming the crown in a Game 4 win over Connecticut, Gray and her Las Vegas teammates celebrated its first championship as a collective. However, for the Duke product, she’d soon be adding a second ring to her trophy case. Although, she did add a new piece of hardware to the collection after being named WNBA Finals MVP.
“The Commissioner’s Cup is like having those in-season moments where you want to be successful,” the nine-year veteran said. “But winning a championship, hoisting up the trophy is great. You work so hard all season to be able to win a championship so that’s what you most look forward to.”
With a full offseason to embrace as a two-time champion and now a Finals MVP, Gray was treated like royalty during the team’s championship parade as she entered the main stage to E-40’s “Tell Me When To Go.” Not long after, she’d find herself back in the Bay Area this time with then NBA Finals MVP, Steph Curry of her hometown Golden State Warriors.
In a viral moment caught on camera, Curry could be heard saying, “Y'all don’t know how crazy this is. We got two MVP trophies up here,” as he pointed to Gray’s prize.
“It was just awesome,” Gray recalled. “To be able to talk to him about winning habits and winning championships at a high-level. Obviously, he’s won more than I have but we were just talking about what it takes to get there and bringing it back to the Bay.”
While parading through Las Vegas and Northern California as a champion lasted several weeks, even months, Gray and her Aces retooled in an attempt for back-to-back championships. The feat of back-to-back titles has not been completed in the WNBA in more than 20 years.
While shipping out several players including two-time Sixth Woman of the Year, Dearica Hamby, the team did bring in three new faces albeit one familiar one for Gray.
Forwards Cayla George, Alysha Clark and Candace Parker have now been installed into Las Vegas’ team landscape. By bringing in Parker, Gray is reunited with a teammate from her first championship ring in 2016 with the Los Angeles Sparks.
"We were close friends off-the-court so we talked all the time,” Gray said. “I was probably one of the first people she told, ‘OK, yes I’m coming.’ It was just exciting because we kind of said our goodbyes in LA so being able to reunite and do this thing another time – we had no idea this was going to happen.”
In their first season back together since 2020, Gray and Parker belong to a league-leading 19-2 Las Vegas team that is slated to host this year’s Commissioner’s Cup championship game for the first time in team history. Bigger than that, the Aces are four games better than the next best team with 19 games left to play in the regular season.
Another title this season would make Las Vegas the first team to repeat since Los Angeles did it in 2001-02. There have only been two teams to ever win back-to-back champions (Houston Comets) as the Aces look to become the third.