UNCASVILLE, Conn. — Las Vegas never had a professional sports champion — until Sunday.
Chelsea Gray scored 20 points to lead the Las Vegas Aces to their first WNBA title — and the city’s first pro title — with a 78-71 win over the Connecticut Sun in Game 4.
Gray went 9 of 13 from the field and was named Finals MVP after averaging 18.3 points in the series.
Las Vegas finished on an 8-0 run. As the buzzer sounded, league MVP A’ja Wilson, who played every minute, grabbed the ball and stomped the floor before being mobbed by her teammates.
“We champs! We champs! We champs!” Wilson screamed at teammates as they pulled on their championship hats and T-shirts before the trophy ceremony.
Riquna Williams had 17 points for Las Vegas, Kelsey Plum added 16, Jackie Young had 13 and Wilson scored 11 points to go with 14 rebounds.
Wilson hopes this is just the beginning for the franchise.
“You see it. You see it,” Wilson said in the on-court celebration. “This is what we’re building. This is what we’re doing. This is it. I’m so happy right now.”
Courtney Williams scored 17 points to lead Connecticut and Alyssa Thomas had her second straight triple-double with 11 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds. Jonquel Jones added 13 points and DeWanna Bonner 12.
“When you come up short it certainly really hurts,” Sun coach Curt Miller said. “But that means that there was something that mattered and something special among that group of players.”
For Aces coach Becky Hammon, who didn’t get a title during her standout WNBA playing career, the ring completed a decades-long quest. She left an assistant coaching position with Gregg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs to take over in Las Vegas. The move paid off.
“They’re unbelievable on the court, but they’re unbelievable humans first and foremost,” Hammon said. “They care about each other. They invest in each other. It’s been an absolute honor to be their coach. I saw excellence and I wanted to be a part of it.”
Hammon also paid tribute to former Aces coach Bill Laimbeer, who was on the floor for the ceremony: “He put this team together and saw the pieces.”
Aces owner Mark Davis, who also owns the NFL’s Las Vegas Raiders, wasn’t with his football team Sunday. He was in Connecticut to get a trophy. He hoisted it, then turned it over to gleeful players who did the same.
“Las Vegas, we are world champions,” Davis said.
The Aces led by two at halftime and by four after three quarters. They held a six-point lead in the fourth when Plum was called for a flagrant foul after running into Bonner while the Sun forward was attempting a 3-pointer and sending her to the floor holding her right ankle.
Bonner hit all three free throws before Jones’ short jumper cut the lead to a point. The Sun then tied the game at 67 on a free throw by Courtney Williams and took a 71-70 lead on two foul shots from Brionna Jones.
But Las Vegas had the answers.
Riquna Williams’ 3-pointer put the Aces back on top, and Gray’s step-back jumper extended the lead to 75-71 with less than a minute left. Wilson then stole a pass and Plum hit a short jump shot to secure the win.
Gray wasn’t a WNBA All-Star or a first-team all-league pick this season and had voiced her displeasure about that. After scoring 21 points in each of the first two games of the Finals, she scored just 11 in Game 3 but bounced back — way back.
“They can keep that All-Star and first team,” Gray said. “I got the ring.”
The start of the celebration was shown on the video screens at the Raiders stadium during their game against the Arizona Cardinals, with fans breaking into loud cheers.
They can cheer more in a few days: A parade on the Las Vegas Strip is planned for Tuesday night.
“What a team, what talent, what a victory! You have made Las Vegas so proud!” Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman said in a statement. “Thank you for your effort, discipline & focus. We can’t wait for the celebrations & a great parade!”
Wilson said after the game that parade goers should be ready for a party.
“When you come to the parade, you better be four shots in,” she said. “If you ain’t four shots in, don’t come.”
– Pat Eaton-Robb