A’ja Wilson embarked on a determined journey, leaving no room for excuses amidst the adversities faced by her team this season.
In a closely contested game, the Las Vegas Aces secured their second consecutive championship with a slim 70-69 victory over the New York Liberty in Game 4 of the WNBA Finals at Barclays Center in New York. The Aces’ dominance in the third quarter proved to be the decisive factor.
This achievement by the Aces marks the first back-to-back victory in the league since the Los Angeles Sparks in 2001-02. Before that, the Houston Comets were four-time consecutive champions. Since the Sparks’ reign, winning multiple titles has been a challenge for teams. However, the Aces’ powerhouse roster suggests their potential to become the next dominant team in the league.
A’ja Wilson’s impressive performance with 24 points and 16 rebounds not only powered the Aces to victory but also earned her the Finals MVP title. Wilson’s exceptional defense throughout the season led to her recognition as the 2023 Defensive Player of the Year. Furthermore, she secured a spot on both the All-WNBA Team and All-Defensive Team.
Wilson expressed her team’s professionalism and readiness, despite being underestimated and counted out by many throughout the season:
“It’s who we are. We’re professionals. We’re prepared when called upon. And we maintained our focus on what truly matters,” said Wilson. “This achievement was far from easy, and many doubted us from the start. Some even went as far as predicting the Liberty’s victory in five games. We took that doubt and turned it into fuel.”
The Aces faced challenges with two starters sidelined due to injuries. Point guard Chelsea Gray suffered a left foot injury in the final minutes of Game 3, while center Kiah Stokes dealt with discomfort in her right foot between Games 3 and 4. Gray’s absence marked her first missed game of the season.
The Aces’ starting five for Game 4 consisted of Wilson, Kelsey Plum, Jackie Young, Alysha Clark, and Cayla George, who had played just eight minutes together prior to the decisive match. The team had a shaky start in the first quarter with eight turnovers, struggling to find their rhythm and showing signs of sloppy ball-handling. Additionally, Wilson faced early foul trouble, temporarily sending her to the bench.
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The Liberty took a 10-point lead in the first quarter, but the Aces responded with a 5-0 run at the start of the second quarter. New York closed the first half with an 8-0 run, leading 39-30. Both teams struggled with their shooting in the first half, allowing the shorthanded Aces to stay in the game. The Aces shot 13-of-35 from the field, while the Liberty shot 14-of-36.
The Aces emerged from halftime with determination. Wilson single-handedly scored nine consecutive points in the third quarter, narrowing the Liberty’s lead. Alysha Clark tied the game 51-51 with a layup in the final 34.9 seconds of the quarter, capping off a 9-0 run by the Aces. They outscored the Liberty 23-12 in the quarter, giving them a two-point lead heading into the final period.
The Aces made an impressive comeback from a 12-point deficit to secure the championship title.
“It’s historic, isn’t it? There’s a reason it hasn’t happened in such a long time. It’s a challenging feat. Making it to the Finals and winning repeatedly is difficult,” said Alysha Clark. “I’ve experienced seasons of rebuilding and championship-winning teams throughout my career. You never know when you’ll get this moment, this opportunity, regardless of the team you’re on… It’s an incredible achievement, but it’s not a coincidence.”
Wilson added, “This is what it’s all about. etching your name in history alongside other teams. We never gave up. We need to celebrate this moment. Not many get the chance to experience it. And for us to accomplish it while being shorthanded is truly remarkable. It makes the victory even sweeter.”
Jackie Young, who displayed exceptional offensive prowess throughout the series, contributed 16 points and seven assists. MVP of Australia’s WNBL, Cayla George, made a significant impact with 11 points, while Alysha Clark recorded 10 points and eight rebounds.
The Liberty maintained a competitive performance but failed to pull away in the closing moments. Courtney Vandersloot, who struggled offensively in the previous games of the series, led the New York team with 19 points, seven rebounds, and six assists. The 2023 WNBA MVP, Breanna Stewart, had a challenging shooting night, going 3-of-17 from the field for 10 points and 14 rebounds.
Rachel Adams is your WNBA insider, delivering comprehensive coverage of women’s basketball. With a commitment to highlighting the talent and achievements of WNBA players, she provides game analysis, player profiles, and inspiring stories from the league.