UNCASVILLE, Conn. – With a championship on the line for a team with the WNBA’s biggest stars, the Las Vegas Aces leaned on Riquna Williams, who has scored twice in double figures this postseason.

Williams raised her index finger to her lips to silence the Connecticut Sun’s white-knocked fans in Game 4 of the Finals when she hit a big shot in the fourth quarter. The last of her 17 points came on a shot from inside the 3-point line over the outstretched arms of Natisha Hideman. Guard Kelsey Plum threw her arms up, and Williams circled the court with her arms outstretched as the Suns fans began to file out.

The Aces won their first WNBA championship on Sunday, defeating the Suns 78-71.

The Aces led by as many as 10 but had to fight off several angry rallies by the Suns before clinching the title in the final minutes of Las Vegas’ third win in a best-of-five series. Chelsea led the Gray Aces with 20 points and was named the finals most valuable player.

“I worked really hard for this,” Gray said as her teammates cheered.

Gray and the Aces’ loaded roster have kept Las Vegas one step ahead of the league all season. Four Aces were All-Stars – Aja Wilson, Plum, Jackie Young and De’Arika Hamby – and Plum was named MVP of the All-Star Game. Wilson won her second league MVP award and Defensive Player of the Year. Becky Hammon was named the league’s Coach of the Year in her first season with the team.

But entering Game 4, Williams, who scored 11 points in the fourth quarter, had not scored more than 14 points on the season. The Suns held Wilson to just 11 points on Sunday, the third-lowest of the game.

“I’ve got some really solid players,” Hammon said, “You saw different guys come out at different times tonight and that’s what makes it difficult for us to win.”

The Aces have finished with the best records in two of the last three seasons, and the second year in which they did not finish first. The Seattle Hurricanes swept them in the 2020 Finals. Las Vegas was a team well-equipped to win in the regular season, but was unable — or unwilling — to make the adjustments needed to succeed in the postseason. The star-studded roster looked like it had plenty of talent for itself, with the best players often backed up by their lone basketball, but that kept the Aces from closing out the championship.

This year, several groups of fans in red, black and gold Aces gear made their way to the lower levels of Mohegan Sun Arena as Las Vegas players flooded the court after the game. It was a momentous moment for Gray.

“I was on two teams and that was loud,” Gray said of Aces fans. “They are going to respect us and we are going to respect them.”

Last season, the Aces lost Game 5 of the semifinals to the Phoenix Mercury on the Aces’ home floor. Gray said the ending has been stuck in her mind ever since.

“And now I’m kind of replaying it in my head,” Gray said with a smile.

When the buzzer sounded Sunday, the Aces players — now champions — cheered and hugged, their jubilant cheers echoing through a quiet stadium that moments earlier had been rocked by the deafening roar of Suns fans.

As Connecticut players left the court in tears, Suns center Jonkel Jones walked the length of the court to the Aces’ celebration to hug and congratulate Wilson. As Jones left, she paused to applaud and thank the remaining fans before heading to the locker room. She physically dominated the Aces in the Suns’ lone win in Game 3, and nearly led them to another victory in Game 4.

Wilson spoke highly of Jones after the game.

“It’s hard to wait for her, and I have the utmost respect for JJ, so I had to go and talk to her,” Wilson said of last season’s MVP Jones.

The loss to the Suns, the No. 3 seed, was another sad end to a franchise that had the second-most wins in WNBA history, but no championship. For the second straight game, Sun outfielder Alyssa Thomas had a triple-double. She is the only player with a triple-double in the WNBA Finals.

Hammon said it was a “battle” to hit the Sun. “We knew it wasn’t going to be easy,” she said.

Bill Laimbeer, the Aces coach for four years, was fired before the season. The Aces hired Hammon, who was an assistant with the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs. In the year She took over a team led by Wilson, who earned her first MVP award in 2020.

While leading the Aces to the first seed, Hammon said she glimpsed the patterns of play that kept the Aces from winning the title. But that changed in the Aces’ semi-final win over the Storm, during which Hammon said the players were “picking each other up” and how they could “take punches”.

That holds true when the Aces find ways to win playoff games and fall short — as happened Sunday — to finally shake off the reputation of a team with unfulfilled potential.

Hammon thanked Lambert for holding the team together and praised her players.

“The thing I’m most proud of is that we’ve become a real team out here, and we’re a team that cares about each other and trusts each other,” she said.

Hammon said winning her first WNBA championship was a “little surrender.” She played in the league for more than a decade, including several seasons with the Las Vegas franchise while in San Antonio.

She said the Aces had “great leadership” among the players, and that they persevered despite not playing well during the season. She applauded Williams for putting her through Sunday when the Aces were struggling to score.

“She knew she got the last green light,” Hammon said.

Wilson talked about progress — hers and the team’s.

“I know who I am now more than ever,” Wilson said. I feel like I’ve established myself in this league. And the Aces aren’t done yet.”

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