There has been no shortage of excitement and action leading up to the 2022 WNBA Finals.
The Las Vegas Aces dispatched the Seattle Storm in four thrilling games, displaying high-level basketball. Chelsea Gray took on the scoring reins as the Aces said goodbye to the Storm and to Sue Bird’s career.
Meanwhile, the resilient Connecticut Sun barged into the league’s biggest stage by defeating the Chicago Sky in stunning fashion. Just when the Sun were down for the count (down by double-digits with under eight minutes left), they unleashed a head-turning 18-0 blast to finish off the defending champions on their home floor.
The best-of-five Finals series begins Monday (PH time) at 3:00 AM in Las Vegas.
Who takes home the crown - the Aces or the Sun? Let’s break it down.
Most compelling storyline
Both franchises are looking for their first title. The Aces started out as the Utah Starzz before becoming the San Antonio Silver Stars. The team moved to Vegas in 2018 and competed in the 2020 Finals before losing to the Seattle Storm. A’ja Wilson was a young MVP then and the Aces didn’t have enough firepower to stay with the Storm.
With the entry of first-year head coach Becky Hammon, who is a former star player of the franchise, the Aces feel that now is their time.
On the other hand, the Sun have their own backstory worthy of a champion. Originally the Orlando Miracle in 1999, the franchise moved to Connecticut. The team also recently competed in the Finals when they lost to the Washington Mystics in 2019. Last season, they were a fierce contender and raced to the top seed with league MVP Jonquel Jones at the forefront. They were beaten in the semis by eventual champions Chicago Sky. They got their revenge this year and have all the confidence heading into the big dance.
There’s always somebody looking to prove something in sports, and this couldn’t be truer than these two franchises hungry for a title.
The biggest focus right now for the Sun is stopping Chelsea Gray. The Point Gawd is shooting an absurd rate in the playoffs. Through six games, she’s firing a scorching 62.6 percent from the field, 59.5 from deep, and 88.9 from the line. That’s nearly a 60-60-90 split. And not to mention, she hits the gutsiest and toughest shots to will her team to victory.
The Sun will obviously have their hands full with guarding the two-time MVP Wilson, Kelsey Plum, and Jackie Young. But Gray has proven to be the Aces’ trump card. When Vegas needs a bucket, they often go to Gray.
Connecticut’s Alyssa Thomas might be the primary defender on Gray and she certainly has the size, strength, and speed to cover her. Maybe the Sun can pull a page from the Storm’s playbook and have Thomas guard her 94 feet like what Gabby Williams did. Williams also had the tools to shadow Gray before the latter eventually found a way to get loose. Gray hunted mismatches using a ton of screens and punished the Storm for making the tiniest of errors.
The Sun can’t afford to slip, even a little bit on Chelsea Gray.
The Aces, meanwhile, will have a difficult time with Connecticut’s frontcourt. You’re talking about last season’s MVP Jonquel Jones, DeWanna Bonner, and Alyssa Thomas starting the game, plus you have this year’s Sixth Player of the Year Brionna Jones coming off the bench. That’s a whole lot of length and versatility. There are even times when Coach Curt Miller cranks up the lineup even further, putting all four forwards on the court at the same time with Courtney Williams or Natisha Heideman running the point.
The Sun’s hefty lineup might cause some problems for Las Vegas considering they like to play a lot of small ball. When center Kiah Stokes goes to the bench, Coach Hammon likes to keep her four starters (Young, Plum, Gray, and Wilson) and plug in Riquna Williams. The return of Dearica Hamby from injury will surely help but she hasn’t seen much action in the last two games. Can the Aces keep running their small ball or will the Sun force their style of play?
This matchup features two MVPs in Wilson and Jones and it can’t be stressed enough that the road to either team’s championship hopes rests on their shoulders.
Gray has grabbed the spotlight recently with her otherworldly shotmaking but Wilson has been the Aces’ engine throughout the season. After her quiet 8-point performance in Game 1 versus the Storm, she put up back-to-back 30-point double-doubles. In the clincher, she had 23 and 13 plus two blocks. The cherry on top of this is she only rested a total of four minutes in the semifinals, including not sitting at all in the last two games.
For the Sun, Jones needs to be the Jones of last season where she just up monster numbers left and right. In these playoffs, she’s only averaging 14.4 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks in 26.1 minutes. Granted that it’s really hard to navigate the lineup with plenty of frontcourt options, but the Sun have to remember they have an MVP in their midst. Maybe it’s time to up her usage just a bit? The Aces will have a lot on their plate given the Sun’s size and Jones can capitalize on this opportunity.
This series can go either way and it might just boil down to who has the better MVP.