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Aces find a way to beat Sun and capture first WNBA championship

Courtney Williams (10), DeWanna Bonner and Jonquel Jones collapse on Las Vegas’ A’ja Wilson in game 4 of Sunday’s WNBA finals in Uncasville. The Aces won the game and the league championship with a 78-71 win.

UNCASVILLE, Sept. 18, 2022 – Just too many weapons.

The Connecticut Sun limited league MVP A’ja Wilson to just 11 points in game 4 of Sunday’s WNBA finals at the Mohegan Sun Arena, her lowest output of the finals. Kelsey Plum chipped in with 15 points in her lowest scoring output since game one.

The Sun, trying to force a decisive game five for the WNBA championship, led by two points with 2:18 remaining in the game after Courtney Williams hit a pullup jumper before a loud, sellout crowd.

But on three consecutive possessions, Plum found Las Vegas teammate Riquna Williams who hit all three shots to lift the Aces over the finish line. Riquna Williams scored eight of her season-high 17 points in the final two minutes as Las Vegas won their first WNBA championship with a 78-71 win over the Sun. She was averaging just 5.8 points a game in the series.

The Aces won the best-of-5 series, 3-1. Chelsea Gray led the newly-crowned champions with a game-high 20 points with Jackie Young sinking 13 points. Gray, who averaged 21.7 points per game in the playoffs, was named the finals MVP.

Connecticut, which played so hard, missed several shots from point-blank range and saw another shot at a championship slip away. The Sun lost in the 2019 WNBA finals to the Washington Mystics in five games and were eliminated in the WNBA semifinals in 2020 and 2021.

Alyssa Thomas tried to carry the team on her back. For the second consecutive game, she had a triple double with 11 points, 10 rebounds and 11 aaists. Courtney Williams showed no fear shooting the basketball and had a team-leading 17 points with Jonquel Jones battling inside for 13 points and eight rebounds.

Veteran DeWanna Bonner had 12 points while Brionna Jones had 11 points off the bench.

For the second straight game, Connecticut’s Alyssa Thomas had a triple double with 11 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists.

But for the Sun, who lost in the WNBA finals in 2004, 2005 and 2019, it wasn’t enough.

“Incredibly proud of our team and our resilience and our fight,” Sun head coach and general manager Curt Miller said. “It was a grind out there, both teams playing so hard, both teams playing so well in stretches defensively, and just incredibly proud of our effort. And we put ourselves in position to win and it became a chess match down the stretch with our big lineup versus their small lineup and they finished on an 8-0 run to end the game.”

Las Vegas led by as many as 10 points but the Sun would not go away. The Aces led by six with 7:28 remaining but Bonner drained a three-point shot off an assist from Thomas and Brionna Jones easily hit a jumper from the top of the key to cut the lead to one, 60-59.

Las Vegas extended the lead to six again, 67-61, with a pair of free throws from Jackie Young with 3:55 remaining. But Bonner sank three free throws and Jonquel Jones scored on the baseline to again cut the lead to one, 67-66, with 3:23 left to go.

Courtney Williams hit one of two free thows with 3:02 left to tie the game at 67-67. Connecticut’s defense forced a shot clock violation and the Sun came down with Williams hitting a jumper for a 69-67 lead with 2:18 remaining.

But Las Vegas’ Riquna Williams hit an open three-point shot off an assist from Plum to give the Aces a 71-69 edge. Brionna Jones drained two foul shots with 1:50 left to give the Sun a 71-70 lead. But Riquna Williams drained another three-point shot to put the Aces up by two, 73-71. Riquna Williams was 5-of-9 from the long distance.

The Sun had three cracks at the basket. Jones missed twice and Thomas missed once.

Riquna Williams hit another jumper for two points to extend the lead to 75-71 with 53.3 seconds left.

Bonner threw the ball away with 52 seconds remaining for another turnover and the Sun missed their final three shots from the floor, setting the stage for the Aces to celebrate on the Mohegan Sun Arena floor.

“It’s going to hurt when you care as much as we do, and they put their hearts and soul into seasons,” Miller said. “When you come up short, it really hurts. That means that there was something that mattered and something special amongst that group of players when it hurts that much.”

The Aces led by 10, 25-15 with 5:18 left in the second quarter but the Sun used their defense to climb back into the game. Jonquel Jones blocked Wilson twice in the second quarter and the Sun had seven steals in the game.

The crowd loved the defensive stops but they were just itching to really cheer with some offensive success.

Jonquel Jones scored inside with 2:19 left in the second quarter to cut the lead to four, 25-21 before Natisha Hiedeman sank a pair of free throws with 2:04 left to cut the lead to two, 25-23. After Jonquel Jones blocked Wilson in the low post, Bonner tied the game at 25-25 with 1:18 remaining in the first half as the crowd roared.

Of course, the Aces always have a stinging comeback. Riquna Williams hit a three-point shot and Gray hit a three-point shot of her own to give the Aces a five-point lead.

A three-point shot from Jonquel Jones cut the Aces lead to two points, 30-28, at halftime.

“This is amazing. I say all the time, I wouldn’t be where I am today without my teammates,” Wilson said. “Winning a championship is something that no one can ever take from you and once you got that down, you are in the books forever …

And she burped. “Excuse me. Too much champagne,” she said with laughter in the media room.

“It’s something that no one can ever take away from you. When you are talking about a legacy, you talk about, you have to win and I don’t win without my teammates. This moment right here, this year right here is something I’m never going to forget and this is not going to be the first.”

The Las Vegas Aces celebrate winning their first WNBA championship Sunday at the Mohegan Sun Arena after beating the Sun, 78-71.

Added Jonquel Jones, “The chips didn’t fall the way we wanted them to. But there’s a lot of selflessness and a lot of sacrifices to be able to have this team back together and make this run.

“You know, while it’s tough and it’s disappointing, we get to say that we were one of the last two teams standing and playing for a championship. So, I’ve got a lot of pride and a lot of joy with the moments that I’ve had with this team and have the ladies that have been ready to play with every night,” Jonquel Jones said.

NOTES: It was a sellout crowd of 9.652 for game four. There were fewer seats than normal to accommodate additional national media and the ESPN pre-game and post-game crews. … Alyssa Thomas is the first WNBA player with two triple doubles in the playoffs.

Game 4: Las Vegas 78, Connecticut 71

2022 WNBA finals
Sunday, Sept. 11
Las Vegas 67, Connecticut 64
Tuesday, Sept. 13
Las Vegas 85, Connecticut 71
Thursday, Sept. 15
Connecticut 105, Las Vegas 76
Sunday, Sept. 18
Las Vegas 78, Connecticut 71, Las Vegas wins series, 3-1

Gerry deSimas, Jr., is the editor and founder of The Collinsville Press. He is an award-winning writer and has been covering sports in Connecticut and New England for more than 40 years. He was inducted into the New England High School Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2018.

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