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Monday, February 26, 2024

Aces win back-to-back WNBA championship after nail-biter vs. Liberty

Aces win back-to-back WNBA championship after nail-biter vs. Liberty

(Illustration by Mallory Bielecki/Yahoo Sports)

A’ja Wilson was on a mission. There would be no excuses for a team that has used adversity as fuel this season.

A dominant third quarter was the difference in an otherwise close game and sent the Las Vegas Aces to their second straight WNBA championship with a 70-69 win over the New York Liberty in Game 4 of the WNBA Finals on Wednesday.

The title is the first back-to-back feat in league history since the Los Angeles Sparks in 2001-02. The Houston Comets won the league’s first four championships before the Sparks’ two. Since then, teams have only been able to win a single trophy at a time. The homegrown super-team Aces look poised to become the league’s next dynasty.

Wilson, the 2023 Defensive Player of the Year and an All-WNBA Team and All-Defensive Team selection this season, scored 24 points and had 16 rebounds to power the Aces.

The Aces were without two starters after point guard Chelsea Gray injured her left foot in the final minutes of Game 3 and center Kiah Stokes had discomfort in her right foot between Games 3-4. It was Gray’s first missed game this season.

The Aces’ starting five for Game 4 — Wilson, Kelsey Plum, Jackie Young, Alysha Clark and Cayla George — had played just eight minutes together prior to Wednesday night. The Aces had eight turnovers in the first quarter as they tried to find their rhythm marked by errant passes and sloppy ball-handling. Wilson also picked up two early fouls, sending her to the bench for a short stretch.

The Liberty took a 10-point lead after the first, but the Aces answered with a 5-0 run to open the second quarter. New York ended the half on an 8-0 run to take a 39-30 lead at the break. Neither team shot particularly well in the first half, helping keep the shorthanded Aces in it. The Aces hit 13-of-35 from the field in the first half and the Liberty went 14-of-36.

Las Vegas came out of the halftime break with purpose.

Wilson scored nine straight points in the third quarter for the Aces to cut into the Liberty’s lead, which Clark erased completely with a layup with 34.9 seconds remaining in the quarter to tie the game at 51-51. The Aces ended the quarter on a 9-0 run and outscored the Liberty 23-12 in the frame to take a two-point lead heading into the final period.

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