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Third straight win sends Aces to third-ever Finals

Las Vegas guard Chelsea Gray hangs in the air for a jumper over Seattle forward Breanna Stewart. Photo Credit: Las Vegas Aces

A third straight win has sent the Las Vegas Aces back to the WNBA Finals.

Las Vegas beat Seattle, 97-92, in Game 4 of the WNBA Semifinals Tuesday, Sept. 6 from the Climate Pledge Arena. The average margin of victory was 6.3 points per game this series. “That’s playoff basketball,” guard Chelsea Gray said. “Men, women, whatever – that was a great series. Each game kept you on your toes the entire time. Two bad possessions and it’s the other team’s win.”

As part of the three straight wins, the Aces won back-to-back games in Seattle to improve to 3-1 in Seattle this season.

Now, Las Vegas is headed to the WNBA Finals for the third time in franchise history and the second time in the last three years. “I think we just developed a toughness,” head coach Becky Hammon said. “We developed how to take a punch. Like that can’t be understated because in the scheme of games [and] series, there’s going to be these moments – these make or break moments. And you have to decide, in those moments, who you’re going to be.”

Hammon is heading to the WNBA Finals in her first year as head coach of the Aces after already claiming this year’s Coach of the Year award after leading the team to the No. 1 seed in the playoffs.

As the top seed, Las Vegas will host Game 1 of the WNBA Finals Sunday, Sept. 11 with tipoff scheduled for 12 p.m. “It super equips us,” Hammon said. “It helps us – we have to let it help us because that is a championship-caliber team with Olympians, first picks, I mean, they’re just loaded. And they’re special in this arena.”

The Aces will play the winner of the series between the Chicago Sky and Connecticut Sun. Both teams are set to play in a do-or-die Game 5 Thursday, Sept. 8.

Gray became the first player in WNBA playoff history to record 30 or more points while recording 10 or more assists. She racked up 31 points, 10 assists and six rebounds.

“It’s just in her DNA,” Hammon said. “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.”

As she has all season long, Gray came up biggest in the clutch, scoring seven straight points late in the fourth quarter to put the Aces up five points with 30 seconds left.

To close the third quarter, she went on a 4-0 run by herself to extend the Las Vegas lead. That third quarter, the road team used two separate 7-0 runs to redirect the momentum.

“When Chelsea’s rocking and rolling, my biggest thing is just getting the hell out of her way,” forward A’ja Wilson said. “At the end of the day, you just have to get out of the way and let people rock. And I’m never going to get in between that when Chelsea is rocking.”

Aces forward A'ja Wilson goes off the dribble during the team's Game 4 win in Seattle. Photo Credit: Las Vegas Aces

Gray is averaging 24 points per game to go along with 7.7 assists per contest. This includes 60 points, 22 assists and 11 rebounds in the two games in Seattle.

Wilson also recorded a double-double, recording 23 points and 13 rebounds while playing every single minute of the game for the second straight contest. In fact, Wilson played in 161 of the possible 165 minutes in this series.

“Four minutes?” Wilson replied. “I’m not even gone hold you, I feel great. Even in fourth quarters I’m like, ‘I’m good.’ But the biggest thing that I’ve learned in college from [South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley] is mind over matter: If you don’t mind, it won’t matter.”

Two other Aces players scored in double figures, in guards Jackie Young and Kelsey Plum, who combined for 31 points on 11-of-17 from the field including four made threes.

“I told them from the very beginning the way I want to play, ‘Yall have to be scrappers,” Hammon said. “We keep score on everything, we make it competitive because we want competitive habits.”

Las Vegas had to withstand an MVP-worthy performance from Seattle’s Breanna Stewart, who poured in a career-high 40 points on 13-of-21 shooting.

“As much as they’re sitting there scratching their heads about Chelsea, we were scratching our heads about Stewie,” Hammon said. “Like, ‘How are we going to stop this girl?’ She gave one hell of a performance.” Stewart’s 26 first half points accounted for the second-most points in a half in WNBA playoff history. It also marked the most points in a first half in WNBA playoff history.

The win for the Aces also means an end to the career of Storm guard Sue Bird, who just wrapped up her 21st season in the league.

“I just wanted to snag Sue and tell her my own individual love for her,” Hammon said. “She’s a beautiful mind. Her mind for the game, yes, her jumper going left is killer too but her mind for the game is just one-of-a-kind.

“I battled against her so like I said, it feels weird to coach against her.”

Seattle guard Sue Bird leaves the Climate Pledge Arena floor following the Aces' series clinching win. Photo Credit: Las Vegas Aces

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