LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — When Chelsea Gray came to the Aces, it was designed to be a finishing touch.
One, because one of the WNBA’s best point guards knew what it took to become a champion. And, second, then coach Bill Laimbeer wanted to surround the team’s franchise player, A’ja Wilson, with polished and experienced players. The kind who can keep their cool under pressure.
The Aces are getting exactly what they envisioned in Gray as they prepare to meet the Connecticut Sun in the WNBA Finals. Game 1 of the best-of-five series is Sunday at Michelob Ultra Arena (Noon, ABC).
Gray, who signed with the Aces in February 2021, was a monster in the semifinals against Seattle, averaging 25 points, 4.8 rebounds and 8.5 assists.
Neither the Sun nor the Aces franchise has a title, and Gray, of course, would like that to end in the Aces’ favor.
“It’s super special for both franchises to be here, and that it’s going to be a new champion,” said Gray, who was a league champion with the Los Angeles Sparks in 2016. “I think that’s exciting for our league.
“I want it to be Vegas. That’s why I came here, you know, bringing Vegas its first championship amongst other things, but it’d be awesome to bring to this city.”
The Aces came close in 2020 reaching the Finals before being swept by the Seattle Storm. The Sun lost in the 2019 Finals to Washington, their third trip to the Finals. They also made the championship series in 2004 and 2005.
In 2008, when Aces coach Becky Hammon was one of the team’s best players, San Antonio made it to the Finals. The San Antonio franchise relocated to Las Vegas in 2017.
Each team has star players, with Kelsey Plum and Jackie Young giving the Aces long-range shooting, quickness and ballhandling. The Aces were the league’s highest-scoring team in the regular season, averaging 90.4 points. They hit for 97 in their past two playoff games, victories that knocked Seattle out of the postseason.
The Sun counter with defense — so the task will be to slow the Aces — and a one-two punch of Jonquel Jones and DeWanna Bonner (13.8 points, 7.4 rebounds and 4.2 assists versus Chicago in the semifinals).
At 6 foot 6, Jones teams with Bonner, 6-4, to give the Sun dominant play underneath. Jones averaged 13 points and 8.2 rebounds in the five-game series against Chicago.
The obvious matchup, then, is Wilson, at 6-4, having her hands full against Jones and Bonner. That’s because the Aces have been utilizing a three-guard, small-ball lineup — featuring Gray, Plum and Young — for large stretches.
All good with Wilson. The bigger the challenge, well, bring it on.
“It’s gonna be exciting. I feel like it’s the Finals now so we’re gonna put everything out there,” Wilson said. “They got to guard us, we got to guard them, so it’s going to be a very exciting series.”