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Aces edge Liberty to secure second straight WNBA championship

Aces edge Liberty to secure second straight WNBA championship

Alexa FilippoespnOctober 18, 2023, 10:22 PM ET2 min read

NEW YORK — The Las Vegas Aces became the first repeat WNBA champion in more than 20 years on Wednesday with a 70-69 Game 4 win over the New York Liberty to win the Finals series 3-1.

Las Vegas finished its title run despite being without starting goaltender Chelsea Gray and starting center Kia Stokes, who both suffered foot injuries in Game 3.

But the team saw the injuries as just another hurdle to overcome in an up-and-down season on and off the field. The players pointed to their chemistry and closeness as what allowed them to persevere — and now they do the improbable by beating a tough New York team at home without a defensive stalwart in Stokes and their offensive leader in Gray.

“This group was shaped by adversity,” coach Becky Hammon said Tuesday. “They weren’t put together based on superteam expectations. They’ve been bad for a long time. … They deserved this moment, they earned this opportunity, and now we just have to go seize it.”

And they did: With Alisha Clarke and Kayla George (in her first playoff appearances) taking Gray and Stokes’ place in the starting lineup, and Sydney Coulson seeing a stretch, the Aces overcame a 12-point deficit to take a two-point lead going into the final frame, and despite rising Trailing in New York, they never trailed in the fourth quarter.

A’ja Wilson paced the Aces with 24 points and 16 rebounds and was named Finals Most Valuable Player, adding to her collection of awards and accolades, which already included last season’s title, a national title at South Carolina, and gold medals with Team USA at World Championship. World Cup, Olympics, and two league MVP awards. Jackie Young added 16 points and seven assists.

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Coming off their 2022 tournament exit, the Aces were the favorites to repeat, leading the league in offensive rating (113.0, best in league history) and defensive rating (97.7) during the regular season on their way to securing the No. 1 overall seed. With a 34-6 record. If anyone’s going to get in their way, it’s Liberty, the so-called superteam that took on Breanna Stewart, Jonquel Jones and Courtney Vandersloot this offseason. Two of the Aces’ regular season losses were to the Liberty, who also beat them in the Commissioner’s Cup championship game.

But in the postseason, Las Vegas played some of its best basketball and cemented its place as one of the greatest teams in WNBA history. They have lost just one game in the playoffs, and despite a highly anticipated matchup between the league’s two “superteams,” they defeated New York by a combined 45 points in their first two wins of the series, setting them up for victory on Wednesday.