NEW YORK — The Las Vegas Aces became the first team in more than 20 years to repeat as WNBA champions after holding off the New York Liberty 70-69 in Game 4 of the Finals.
A’ja Wilson, named the Most Valuable Player of the Finals, produced 24 points and 16 rebounds to help the Aces recover from a 12-point deficit in Brooklyn.
New York had appeared on track to keep their first Finals campaign in 21 years alive, with guard Courtney Vandersloot leading with 19 points, but an error-filled second half cost them dearly.
“We fought through so much adversity during the season and we just kept the main thing the main thing,” said Wilson according to Reuters.
“We cried together, prayed together, and now we popping champagne together.”
The Aces were out of sync early on with starters Chelsea Gray and Kiah Stokes sidelined due to injury and coughed up eight turnovers in the first quarter.
New York had a commanding lead at halftime thanks to standout performances from forward Betnijah Laney and Vandersloot but Las Vegas came alive in the third, outshooting the home team 23-12.
A clutch jump shot from Sabrina Ionescu put New York within one point with only seconds left but their frantic last-gasp attempts to clinch victory came up short.
“Credit to Vegas, they were down, they found a way,” New York coach Sandy Brondello told reporters. “We fought but it wasn’t our best game today.”
Dubbed the league’s ‘superteams’, the two sides had been on a collision course to the Finals, attracting enormous interest from fans in the best-of-five series.
“There were a lot of years that we weren’t so super, but you can’t build a super team in a couple of months,” said Aces guard Kelsey Plum, who had seven points, eight rebounds and five assists.
“It takes years and I’m just really proud of this group.”
Coach Becky Hammon said this was the closest team she has ever been around. The entire team attended the postgame news conference and cheered every answer, especially those by Wilson, the Finals MVP, who finished third in the regular-season MVP balloting.
With the game tied at 64, Las Vegas scored six straight points, including the first four by Jackie Young, to go ahead 70-64 with 1:26 left.
Courtney Vandersloot hit a 3-pointer on New York’s next possession, then stole the ball from Kelsey Plum, which led to Sabrina Ionescu’s foul-line jumper to get the Liberty within one with 41.7 seconds left.
On the ensuing possession, Las Vegas worked the shot clock down before Hammon called timeout with 3 seconds left on the shot clock. The Aces got the ball to Wilson on a lob, but Breanna Stewart blocked the shot, giving New York one last chance.
After a timeout with 8.8 seconds left, the Liberty got the ball to Stewart, who was double-teamed. The ball swung over to Vandersloot in the corner, but her shot missed badly, setting off a wild celebration by the Aces at midcourt.
“It’s a play we´ve ran before, get the ball to Stewie´s hand,” Liberty coach Sandy Brondello said according to AP. “Sometimes they work, sometimes they don´t. We got it where we wanted to, but didn´t make it.”
Vandersloot finished with 19 points and Betnijah Laney added 15 for New York.
Hammon said before the game she would be “throwing the kitchen sink at (the Liberty), see what sticks, see what works.”
The Aces rotated defenses, which stymied New York after the Liberty scored 23 points in the first quarter.
“I think they were throwing whatever defense they had at us and make sure it´s ugly,” Stewart said. “Sometimes we lost our flow and ball movement.”