Here we are, after an explosive, unpredictable, historic WNBA Playoffs, we've landed at the Finals. Only five games stand in the way of a championship season. And as if Sue Bird's retirement wasn't historic enough for you, at the end of this year's finals we will have a first time championship winner.
That's right, neither the Las Vegas Aces or the Connecticut Sun have ever won a championship. The semi finals were so nail-bitingly shocking we're in for one final rollercoaster ride of basketball excellence. If you haven't been watching the Playoffs, don't worry, it's never too late to jump on the WNBA train - it's an addictive one.
Aces Are Wild Ahead of the Finals
The series kicks off in Vegas to a sold out arena. Mandalay Bay's Michelob Ultra Arena has been rocking all season long, so fans should expect an electric environment Sunday for Game 1. The Las Vegas Aces beat the Seattle Storm 3-1 in the semifinals erasing the memory of falling short against the Storm in the semis last season. Aces guard Chelsea Gray, reflected on that loss to ESPN, "We didn't go last year, and it hurt. It stung. That was the hardest game."
This year, thanks in huge part to the relentless passion, tenacity and clutch shooting of Gray, the Aces find themselves on the precipice of winning their first championship. According to ESPN, Gray's performance in Game 4 against Seattle, she had 31 points and 10 assists, made her the first player in WNBA playoff history to top 30 points and 10 assists. When Gray gets hot and flips a switch, good luck stopping her. She has a crazy ability to make plays, even in the direst of conditions. For a bit it looked like Seattle might force a Game 5, but Gray had ice in her veins and ended any hopes of Bird getting the storybook finish to a legendary career. Can Gray maintain this level of magnificent play? I wouldn't bet against her.
Gray isn't alone on this electric Aces team. Recently named Defensive Player of the Year and MVP, A'ja Wilson is a monster to guard and a nuisance to break free of and make buckets. The two time MVP shared her feelings on Twitter, tweeting, "Can't put into words how truly blessed I am! Forever grateful to compete in such a talent league! BIG BLESSINGS!"
The Sun will have their work cut out for them matching up against Gray, Wilson, shooting powerhouse Kelsey Plum, who finished 3rd in the MVP voting, and Jackie Young, the league's 2022 Most Improved player who's been dynamite this postseason. The Ace's also have that home court edge for the first two games, which unless Connecticut can steal a game in Vegas, could play a big part in securing their first championship.
Connecticut has also had less time to rest, coming off a five game semifinal battle against the 2021 Champs, Chicago Sky. The Sun battled back from being down 2-1 and threw down a stunning fourth quarter comeback in Game 5 to advance to the Finals. The physicality of Connecticut could be just the ticket to halting Las Vegas. The Sun capitalize on their defensive prowess, size and toughness on the court, which will make for an exciting matchup against the Aces. One thing is certain, it's going to be a hard-fought series. Sun Forward Jonquel Jones talked to CBS Sports about what she thinks will be the series' difference maker.
"I think for us we're gonna have to make it a messy game again," Jones said. "You got a lot of iso ball with Chelsea Gray, you got A'ja who can score the ball in a lot of different ways. I think the beauty of the game is that we're a really good defensive team and they're a really good offensive team. It's gonna be a battle of the wills."
The Sun have already proven they have the mental toughness to dig themselves out of a hole and if they can be the defensive nuisances on the court they've shown they're capable of being, they just might be able to slow the offensive arsenal Vegas fires. I think we've all learned to not doubt Connecticut's ability to win. F/G DeWanna Bonner said it best, "Don't count us out just yet, because we are relentless." That may be the best word I've seen to describe the Sun's style of play, relentless. They don't give up and they just keep coming at you, no matter what.
The Becky Hammon Factor
First season Aces coach Becky Hammon would love to bring a championship to the fans her first year there. The coach has brought together the team who earlier this season she was pointing her finger at and calling selfish. Quite the turnaround if you ask me, I don't see selfish play at any turn in Vegas.
The question is what will prevail in this series, the aggressive defense of the Sun or the insane shooting of the Aces. One thing is for sure, it's going to be a bruising series and one that kicks off in the middle of the NFL's first week of Sunday football. A fact many sports fans are not happy about. (Hi, I'm right here.) And it's not just fans who hate the placement of the Finals Game 1 because of all the Sunday football games. Mark Davis, the owner of both the Aces and Raiders is left actually having to pick his favorite child, as he can't physically be in two places at the same time. So why is the WNBA going up against Goliath - it just seems crazy, especially after a regular season that garnered so much viewership.
Davis shared his thoughts, "It makes no sense," Davis said, via USA Today. "It doesn't make any sense. We don't have the eyeballs. Well how in the hell are you going to get eyeballs when you're going up against the opening day of the National Football League?" Davis asked. "That part is tough. We have the greatest athletes in the world at what they do. We need people to invest in the game ... If we invest in the product, it will come back to us in multiples."
The women of the WNBA have been gifting us some of the most phenomenal basketball week after week, and spectacularly engaging Playoff competition. This Sunday some of the greatest athletes in their sport will begin the battle for their first-ever championship win. My hope is people will see it, because the WNBA is more than just basketball, it's more than incredible and in my book, it's must-see tv.
Catch ALL the WNBA Finals action
- Game 1: Connecticut at Las Vegas, Sunday, Sept. 11 (3 p.m. ET, ABC)
- Game 2: Connecticut at Las Vegas, Tuesday, Sept. 13 (9 p.m. ET, ESPN)
- Game 3: Las Vegas at Connecticut, Thursday, Sept. 15 (9 p.m. ET, ESPN)
- Game 4*: Las Vegas at Connecticut, Sunday, Sept. 18 (4 p.m. ET, ESPN)
- Game 5*: Connecticut at Las Vegas, Tuesday, Sept. 20 (9 p.m. ET, ESPN)