For the second time in three years, the Las Vegas Aces will play for a WNBA championship. After winning the Commissioner’s Cup back in July, the Aces are now in a position to take home their second trophy this season after going into Seattle and beating the Storm, 97-92, in what will go down as the final game of Sue Bird’s legendary career.
The Aces looked like they were ready to punch their ticket to the Finals, scoring the game’s first six points without much resistance. This opening punch woke the Storm up, though, as the team was able to rip off a 17-3 run in the immediate aftermath, thanks in large part to the play of Breanna Stewart. The two-time WNBA Finals MVP went for 13 points on 5-for-6 shooting and caught fire by hitting all three of her attempts from deep.
Still, Seattle was only able to take a 23-29 lead into the second quarter, with Kelsey Plum’s 10 points helping to fend off the barrage from Stewart.
Stewart didn’t exactly slow down in the second quarter. She continued to get herself look after look, attacking the Aces defense whenever she got the opportunity and making them pay. By the time the two teams went into the locker room for halftime, Stewart led all scorers with 26 points on 9-for-12 shooting with all five her her attempts from three being successful.
A pair of issues for Seattle, however, were the team’s inability to get anyone beyond Steward and Jewell Loyd (12 points, 4-for-6 shooting) going from the field — every other player on the Storm combined to score nine points. They also struggled mightily from the charity stripe, connecting on only seven of their 12 free throw attempts. All that mixed with some balanced scoring and hot shooting from the field by the Aces — the team shot 19-for-34 (55.9 percent) and 5-for-11 (45.5 percent) from three — meant the home team only took a 47-44 lead into the half.
It did not take long for that lead to disappear. The Aces were brilliant on both ends of the floor in the third, and after taking the lead on a Chelsea Gray three a little more than two minutes into the period, it became awfully hard for Seattle to get it back. Gray was relentless in the third, scoring nine points and picking up a pair of assists, all while making the Storm defense look uncomfortable as the team went up, 66-59 after three.
With the season and Bird’s career both on the line, Seattle made several pushes and kept coming within one possession, but each time, Las Vegas had an answer, like this insane shot Gray hit to beat the shot clock.
And then, the breakthrough came with less than three minutes left in the game. Gabby Williams went up for a layup with the Storm down by two, made it, and got fouled by A’ja Wilson, which sent her to the line. She’d go on to convert … right before Jackie Young came right back down for the Aces and converted an and-one of her own.
The teams continued to trade buckets down the stretch, and as she’s done all postseason long, Gray took her game to another level. After she buried a three, Las Vegas forced a miss, got the ball into her hands, let her go to work, and saw their faith paid off.
Gray led the way for the Aces with 31 points, 10 rebounds, and six assists, while Wilson pitched in 23 points, 13 rebounds, and three blocks. Young’s 18 points and Plum’s 15 rounded things out for the team. The 1-2 punch of Stewart (42 points, seven rebounds, three blocks) and Loyd (29 points) nearly got Seattle across the finish line, but ultimately, it just was not enough. Bird, in her final game, had eight points and eight assists.
Las Vegas will now wait to see if they’ll take on the Connecticut Sun or the Chicago Sky, the latter of whom they beat to win the Commissioner’s Cup, in the WNBA Finals. Those two teams played earlier in the evening and will need a Game 5 to determine who moves on — that game will take place on Thursday night in Chicago at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN2.