Guard Chelsea Gray scored 20 points and handed out six assists on Sunday as the Las Vegas Aces beat the Connecticut Sun 78-71 to capture the 2022 Women’s NBA title.
The Aces claimed their first WNBA title in franchise history, beating the Sun three games to one in the best-of-five title series.
The victory was the first major professional sports championship for a club based in Las Vegas — where the Aces set up shop in 2018 after the franchise was launched as the Utah Starzz in 1997 and moved to San Antonio, Texas, in 2003.
It was also extra sweet, Gray said, after the Aces fell in five games to the Phoenix Mercury in last season’s playoffs.
“We didn’t like that feeling we had last year," said Gray, who was named the WNBA Finals MVP.
“It was a tough moment but it built character. It was setting something up for the following year."
Becky Hammon, who played for the team in San Antonio, became the first head coach in WNBA history to win a title in her first season on the job.
The 45-year-old had served as an assistant to legendary San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich for eight NBA seasons before Aces owner Mark Davis hired her last December to take the helm.
The Aces, led by league MVP forward A’ja Wilson, tied for the league’s best regular-season record at 26-10 and were top seeds in the playoffs.
Wilson chipped in 11 points and pulled down 14 rebounds in the decisive game on Sunday, which the Aces led by as many as 10 points before fending off a string of comeback bids by the Sun.
Aces reserve Riquna Williams added a season-high 17 points, draining a step-back three-point dagger over Sun guard Kelsey Plum in the fourth quarter that had Connecticut fans heading for the exits.
“This is amazing," said Wilson, who was also the league’s Defensive Player of the Year this season. “I say all the time, I wouldn’t be where I am today without my teammates. But winning a championship is something that no one can ever take from you and once you got that down, you are in the books forever.
“This moment right here, this year right here is something I’m never going to forget."
Hammon said her first WNBA title as either player or coach was “a little surreal."
“What I’m most proud of is we became a real team out here, and a team that cares about each other and trusts each other,” she said.
It was more championship disappointment for the Sun.
Connecticut forward Alyssa Thomas had a triple-double for the second straight game but the Sun, who were seeded third, remain in search of a first WNBA title.