WNBA Finals 2022: Aces, Sun tap into levity ahead of their anticipated highly competitive matchup
LAS VEGAS — Theresa Plaisance mimes a fake vintage video camera aimed at two-time MVP A’ja Wilson in the corner of the court at Michelob Ultra Arena. Las Vegas Aces guard Sydney Colson holds the imaginary microphone, ready to jump into the media huddle with a question about the “clowns” to whom Wilson is referring.
A half-hour later, Connecticut Sun guard Dijonai Carrington has a real microphone in hand on the other end of the court. A real camera follows her around, recording Jonquel Jones in the act of mimicking Courtney Williams, who in turn gives her best impression of head coach Curt Miller. Williams paces in front of the bench, and slams her feet into the ground in front of a sitting Miller near the scorers' table. The entire area erupts in laughter.
It’s clear the Aces and Sun, both chasing their first championships in franchise history, are focused but relaxed less than 24 hours before tipoff of Game 1 of the WNBA Finals, which is expected to be another highly competitive and close series. There's something to be said about the ability to have levity in high-stakes moments. That’s how the No. 1 seed Aces operate and what the No. 3 Sun needed to tap back into to oust the reigning champion Chicago Sky and make it here.
Plaisance and Colson, who later drew a nasty and iconic side-eye from Chelsea Gray, are the clowns at center stage on Saturday. They raise their voice to make clear they’re telling a reporter there are plans for Colson and Gray to get best friends tattoos on their fingers so when they point at each other, it reads out.
“No, we’re not,” Gray proclaims in the middle of her own interview, clearly having heard this idea before.
“This is my interview,” Colson retorts. “You and I are best friends. It’s already recorded.”
Gray shoots the side-eye, and Colson is ready: “That loving look! She can’t resist us!”
The team has hit social media gold jumping to “I Think I Love Her” by Gucci Mane on Instagram in July. There was that time a prank war between Dearica Hamby and Kelsey Plum resulted in a police officer showing up to practice. Teammates have consistently called on Wilson to get them gifts every time she earns a big honor. She delivered with bags of her Ruffles chips last month.
Wilson and Plum were their own comedy show at All-Star weekend in Chicago, joking they didn’t know Jackie Young because she was on the other team. Plum jokes you can’t trash talk to the brick wall that is Young because it’ll just bounce back. They then had fun trapping her (unheard of in an All-Star Game that isn’t against Team USA) and laughing about it (in good fun) afterward.
Much of this group has been here before, though they weren’t able to hold Finals games at home in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. That team was swept by a dominant Seattle Storm squad and looking back, Wilson said she felt then like she was just happy to be there. “Oh, great, that’s cute” she said of how others might have viewed their run to runner-up.
That isn’t the case now in their locker room, which boasts the MVP (Wilson), Coach of the Year (Becky Hammon), Most Improved Player (Jackie Young) and Defensive Player of the Year (Wilson). They’ll likely dominate the All-WNBA team to be announced this week.
“Here, I feel like I’m supposed to be here,” Wilson, who won her first MVP in 2020, told reporters after practice on Saturday. “I feel like I earned it. And it’s not like a shock.
“It’s a good feeling when you feel it when you’ve earned it. When you’ve put the work in, you see the rewards coming out, you see everyone reaping the benefits of what you put in, what we put in.”
The Sun certainly earned their return berth with a stunning comeback in Game 5 of the semifinal series in Chicago on Thursday. DeWanna Bonner, who won titles with the Phoenix Mercury in 2009 and 2014, asked Miller to call off film review ahead of a must-win Game 4 and met with her teammates to tell them to have fun with it.
“You kind of get in that mindset [and] you get too serious,” Bonner told Yahoo Sports. “You gotta live in the moment. This is only a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Once you start kind of having fun, that’s what you saw in Game 4 of the [semifinals]. That’s us. Some teams can do that serious thing, but not us.”
Connecticut has the most wins in playoff history without winning a championship and the talk all postseason has been about their window closing. Bonner said it’s important for them to forget about that type of stuff. They won two elimination games to book a trip to their first Finals since losing the deciding Game 5 to the Washington Mystics in 2019.
“We were so close and you realize when you don’t make it there, it just magnifies how difficult it truly is,” Miller told Yahoo Sports. “For us to be back, I know that veteran group that’s been there in the past is just excited. And all this hard work over the last few years comes together in this moment to be back in the Finals.”
Miller said there’s a balance to find between fun and focused, between silly and serious. Every coach and player is different. But for these groups, at least less than 24 hours before tip, it leans on a calmness that everything will be left on the court in the coming two weeks. They both made it back. They’re both taking it one game at a time, in their style, to their first trophy.