Aces one win away from repeating as WNBA champs

A’ja Wilson and Chelsea Gray have double-doubles to lead Las Vegas

SHARE Aces one win away from repeating as WNBA champs
A’ja Wilson

Las Vegas Aces forward A’ja Wilson (22) shoots around New York Liberty forward Jonquel Jones (35) during the second half in Game 2 of the WNBA Finals.

John Locher/AP

LAS VEGAS — It’s rare that the Las Vegas Aces leave their coach Becky Hammon speechless. After Wednesday night’s dominant performance in Game 2 of the WNBA Finals, she was in awe.

A’ja Wilson scored 26 points, grabbed 15 rebounds and the Aces routed the New York Liberty 104-76 to take a 2-0 series lead in the best-of-five series.

“The character of this team and their absolute buy into the person to the left or right’s success is authentic,” Hammon said. “And it’s tough to deal with when you share the ball and people are skilled and competitive. They were good tonight. They don’t leave me speechless very often, but they executed defensively, offensively shared it - everything we’ve been asking them to do.”

Wilson finished 10 of 16 from the field on her way to recording her 26th double-double this season — including her fourth of the playoffs. She’s the third player in WNBA Finals history to have at least 25 points and 15 rebounds in a game.

The defending champion Aces are now one win away from becoming the first team since the 2001-02 Los Angeles Sparks to repeat as champions. Game 3 is Sunday in New York. No team has ever rallied from a 0-2 deficit in the WNBA Finals.

“We know what’s on the line and we had to make sure we came out and took care of home court,” Wilson said.

Chelsea Gray also had a double-double with 14 points and 11 assists, throwing some beautiful no-look passes for easy baskets. Jackie Young finished with 24 points and Kelsey Plum had 23. It was the second straight game that the guard trio dominated the Liberty.

“Vegas is playing their best basketball at the moment,” New York coach Sandy Brondello said. “They’re playing with a lot of confidence, you see the chemistry that they have. And for us, we haven’t taken the steps forward, we haven’t shown it. We’re disappointed, very disappointed, because we’re a way better team what we showed.”

Jonquel Jones (22), Breanna Stewart (14), Betnijah Laney (12), and Sabrina Ionescu (10) accounted for 76.3% of New York’s points, as the Liberty got just 18 points from six others who played.

New York, which lost by 17 in Game 1, came into the game a perfect 9-0 after losses this year. The Aces made sure that streak ended with a dominant first and third quarter. They opened the game scoring 19 of the first 21 points, with 12 points coming from 3-point range. Las Vegas hit seven of its first nine shots — a blistering 77.8% clip — including four 3-pointers.

New York, meanwhile, missed nine of its first 10 attempts.

“It started with our defense,” Gray said. “We kept our pressure up, our physicality and we were able to play with our flow offensively.”

The Aces’ lead grew as high as 21 points in the opening period before taking a 38-19 lead into the second quarter. Las Vegas set a new record for most points in the first quarter of a WNBA Finals. It was also the most points the Aces scored in any quarter all season.

The Liberty came charging back from a 22-point second-quarter deficit behind a 12-0 run, and outscored the Aces 25-14 in the period to cut Las Vegas’ lead to eight, 52-44 at halftime. Jones scored 16 of her points in the second quarter.

New York couldn’t carry its momentum into the third, however, as the Aces used a 17-3 run to extend their lead to 69-47. The Aces outscored the Liberty 28-13 in the third quarter, with 20 points coming from Wilson and Young.

The Liberty couldn’t close the gap and now will try to avoid getting swept.

GUARD PLAY

For the second straight game, New York’s guards struggled to find their offensive rhythm, finishing 9 of 34 from the floor. Laney finished 4 of 15, Ionescu was 2 for 10 and Courtney Vandersloot - who didn’t score her first point until the fourth quarter — was 3 of 9. The trio — which combined to shoot 40% from 3-point range during the regular season - is now 20 of 60 (33.3%) from the field in the series, including 8 of 33 (24.2%) from beyond the arc.

STOKED TO SHOOT

Kiah Stokes finished with eight points after making a season-high two 3-pointers. Her first one came during Las Vegas’ opening run in the first quarter. Her second one was the Aces’ first basket of the second quarter. In five separate games, she hit one 3-pointer during the regular season.

“For her to come out and have the night that she did today doesn’t come as a surprise because we see the work that Kiah puts into practice every single day,” Wilson said. “They can continue to look overlook Kiah, sleep on her all day. We love her in our locker room.”

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