Aces built for 3-peat with finals MVP Wilson, core group returning
NEW YORK (AP) — A’ja Wilson and the Las Vegas Aces are poised for a possible three-peat as WNBA champions and continue one of the greatest runs in league history.
They capped off a history-making regular season with a second consecutive championship and their core group of players — WNBA Finals MVP Wilson, Kelsey Plum, Jackie Young and Chelsea Gray — are all returning. And that quartet is in their prime: Young is 26 years old, Wilson 27, Plum 29 and Gray 31.
“This is a moment that we need to celebrate,” said Wilson, who finished with 24 points and 16 rebounds for the short-handed Aces in the Game 4 clincher Wednesday night.
The Aces joined the Los Angeles Sparks (2001-02) and the Houston Comets (1997-2000) as the only teams in league history to win consecutive titles.
Wilson knew how tough it would be to win back-to-back titles. It will be tougher to win three straight.
Her Aces teammates Gray and Candace Parker, who missed the final three months of the season and the playoffs after suffering a broken foot, had a chance to repeat when they played with the Sparks and couldn't do it. Parker also had the opportunity when she won a title with Chicago and that didn't happen either.
“It takes a lot. It takes skill, a little bit of luck and health. The Aces had none of that and still were able to will,” said Parker, who became the first player ever to win three titles with three different teams. “I definitely think it makes it more special.”
Wilson sought out the advice of Cynthia Cooper-Dyke and Sheryl Swoopes, who were part of the Comets dynasty, asking them what it took to repeat. The Vegas forward said the two Hall of Famers told her: “Go do it. Be better than you were last game.”
The 6-foot-4 Wilson heeded the advice, dominating as the stage and each moment got bigger. She stepped up Wednesday when Las Vegas needed her most, playing without Gray and starting center Kiah Stokes.
Wilson became the first player in league history to have two 20-point, 15-rebound games in the WNBA Finals. She was a major reason Las Vegas won 34 games in the regular season and went 8-1 in the playoffs.
“We’ve been facing adversity all season, playing without different players. ... We have some professional fighters,” said Alysha Clark, who joined the Aces in the offseason and won her third championship. “To weather the storm of everything we went through, to show up every single day. To be in this moment right now and do it together, it speaks volumes about us, our chemistry.”
Besides having the core group locked in, they have Becky Hammon at the helm. She has now guided the team to titles in her first two seasons as its coach. She's only the third person to do that in WNBA or NBA history, joining Van Chancellor, who led the Comets to their four titles and John Kundla of the Minneapolis Lakers (1948-49 and 1949-50).
New York should be Las Vegas' biggest obstacle in the Aces bid to three-peat. The teams were the preseason favorites to meet in the finals and the one-point loss — only the second in a clinching game in WNBA Finals history — will serve to fuel the Liberty.
But just like every other team in the WNBA they'll be chasing the Aces because next year's title will likely run through Las Vegas — for a third straight year.
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