A'ja Wilson had just about every trophy possible heading into these WNBA Finals, and now she's got the most important one. But it was some heroic shooting from Riquna Williams that got the Las Vegas Aces over the top.
The Aces won their first title in franchise history as they took down the Connecticut Sun 78-71 in Sunday's Game 4.
Williams hit three shots in a row — good for eight points — in the fourth quarter to help the Aces gain back the lead after the game was tied at 67 with three minutes left to play. The 17 points and two rebounds in 22 minutes that Williams put in couldn't have come at a more crucial time.
When Wilson was held scoreless in the fourth quarter, Williams was able to be the scoring force her team needed, going 6-of-11 from the floor, hitting five shots from beyond the arc, and securing their championship instead of settling for a Game 5.
"I know she got a lot in the tank and I've got the utmost confidence in her. She knows she's got the ultimate green light," said Aces head coach Becky Hammon. "It just happened to be who was on her and I wanted to run her into it because I knew she would eventually be the one that got open."
Hammon trusted her players at different moments — in prior games Dearica Hamby had been the one to help them keep their lead, and this time it was Williams. That trust helped prove why the rookie head coach was one of the final missing pieces the Aces needed to achieve greatness.
Just seven players took the floor for the Aces in Game 4, but the efforts of Wilson, Williams, 15 points from Kelsey Plum and 13 points, five rebounds and eight assists from Jackie Young were only part of the equation.
Chelsea Gray was awarded WNBA Finals MVP after she averaged 18 points per game in the playoffs and the "Point Gawd" — who was brought in two seasons ago as a free agent — added 20 points, five rebounds and six assists in Game 4.
Gray was snubbed as an All-Star this season despite being a key contributor to the league's No. 1 team, but becoming a Finals MVP and world champion will help fill that void.
"They can keep that All-Star and that first team, I've got that ring," said Gray.
Wilson, who was named WNBA MVP and defensive player of the year this season, still managed a double-double in a series where she was double-teamed and had to play hard in the paint against a tough Sun team. But despite all that, Wilson said Gray's play was the difference in the win.
"When you've got a point guard like Chelsea Gray, I ain't worried about a damn thing," Wilson, now a Commissioner's Cup and WNBA champion, said post-game.
Connecticut is a team who has continually talked about how they thrive on disrespect, and they didn't go down without a fight in the final.
Alyssa Thomas recorded a second-straight triple-double of 11 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists, played lockdown defence and put pressure on the best of the Aces in Game 4. Former MVP Jonquel Jones added 13 points and eight rebounds.
"Nobody expected us to be here, first and foremost. They thought we would lose to Chicago and Dallas, and despite all that, we made it to the Finals," said Thomas.
"Unfortunately it didn't go the way we wanted it to. We had fun. We played our basketball and we stuck together all year."
Courtney Williams was the Sun's leading scorer with 17 points and six rebounds, but in the final minutes when the Aces had a second wind, the Sun couldn't contain them as they refused to go back to Nevada without a trophy.
An unfortunate series of events for the Sun — including DeWanna Bonner collapsing in the final two minutes and committing crucial turnovers — put the Aces in perfect position to go on a scoring run and secure a big enough lead to take home a title.
"I'm honoured to be drafted by them, for them to trust me, for us to gain a Chelsea Gray, for us to be dialled in, for a lot of our starting five to be back, that's how you create legacy and how you create a standard," said Wilson. "I think we found ourselves in this league where everyone has their standard of how they've won, and we are creating that. Our journey is just beginning and it's been amazing so far."
The win caps a historic season on multiple fronts for the Aces. The club posted the best record in the regular season, saw Wilson win MVP and Defensive Player of the Year, Jackie Young win Most Improved Player and Hammon win Coach of the Year. All of that along with winning the Commissioner's Cup made this a season to remember for Las Vegas.
Guided by a WNBA hero who once went undrafted, the Las Vegas Aces finally got over the hump after some recent post-season heartbreak. Looking ahead, the Aces have many of their weapons under contract for next season to potentially run it back and become a WNBA dynasty.
"She demands excellence from us each and every day," said Gray about Hammon. "It's fun to do that with somebody that you know has your back and she's instilled that into us each moment, and so it's fun to raise that banner with her."