A’ja Wilson was on a mission. There would be no excuses for a team that used adversity as fuel this season.
A dominant third quarter was the difference in an otherwise close game, and it sent the Las Vegas Aces to their second straight championship with a 70-69 win over the New York Liberty in Game 4 of the WNBA Finals on Wednesday at Barclays Center in New York.
The title is the first back-to-back feat in the league since the Los Angeles Sparks in 2001-02. The Houston Comets won the league’s first four championships before the Sparks’ two in a row. Since then, teams have been able to win only a single trophy at a time. But now, the homegrown super-team Aces look poised to become the league’s next dynasty.
Wilson scored 24 points and had 16 rebounds to power the Aces and earn Finals MVP. She was also named the 2023 Defensive Player of the Year and an All-WNBA Team and All-Defensive Team selection this season.
“It’s who we are. We’re professionals. We’re ready when our name is called. And we kept the main thing the main thing,” Wilson said. “This s*** wasn’t easy at all, and a lot of people counted us out. A lot of people counted us out from jump. A lot of people in here said, ‘Liberty in five.’ We know. So that just fueled us.
"People counted us out as back-to-back champions. So, like, that s*** fueled us. We read it. We see it. And it fueled us, so thank you. That says a lot about us. We came ready to play, and everybody doubted us. We just kept the foot on the gas.”
— Las Vegas Aces (@LVAces) October 19, 2023
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 and 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. 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 on a layup with 34.9 seconds remaining in the quarter that tied the game 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.
The Aces rallied from a 12-point deficit to clinch the title.
“It’s historical, right? There’s a reason it hasn’t been done in that long of a time period. It’s hard to do. It’s hard to get to the Finals multiple times,” Clark said. “I’ve been around this league long enough. I’ve been in rebuild years. I’ve been a part of championship teams. You never know when you’re going to get this moment, when you’re going to get this opportunity, regardless of what team you have. … It’s amazing, but it’s not a coincidence.”
“This is what it’s all about. To have your name sketched in history right now with other teams. We never gave up,” Wilson added. “And this is a moment that we need to celebrate. This is a moment that not a lot of people get a chance to do it. And for us to do it and be shorthanded, it’s truly amazing. It makes the win that much more better.”
Young, who was an offensive supernova in the series, added 16 points and seven assists. George, an MVP in Australia’s WNBL, stepped up with 11 points, and Clark had 10 points and eight rebounds.
The Liberty kept it close throughout but were unable to pull away late. Courtney Vandersloot, who struggled offensively in the first three games of the series, led New York with 19 points, seven rebounds and six assists. Breanna Stewart, the 2023 WNBA MVP, was 3-of-17 from the field for 10 points with 14 rebounds.