The Las Vegas Aces went wire-to-wire for a 93-83 win over the Chicago Sky in the 2022 WNBA Commissioner's Cup championship on Tuesday night. Aces guard Chelsea Gray was named MVP of the game after a 19-point, four-rebound, five-assists performance.
To drive interest from the players and fans, a $500,000 prize pool was up for grabs in this game. Each Aces player earned $30,000 for being on the winning team, while each Sky player received $10,000 for runner-up. Gray also got an additional $5,000 for winning MVP.
On the first possession of the game, Kelsey Plum stared down the defense and drained a 3-pointer to put the Aces in front. She hit two more over the next few minutes, as the Aces jumped out to a commanding 13-0 lead they would never relinquish. They led by 19 at the end of the first quarter and pushed the lead to 23 in the first half.
The Sky, to their credit, didn't give up, and briefly cut the deficit to single digits at multiple points in the second half. But unlike the previous matchup between these two teams, when the Sky completed a 28-point comeback, they couldn't finish the job. The Aces had a response for every run and held on for a 10-point win.
A'ja Wilson led the way for the Aces with a dominant 17-point, 17-rebound, six-block performance that seemed worthy of the MVP. Instead, the honor went to Gray. Kelsey Plum, who finished with 24 points and five assists, also had a big night for the Aces.
Candace Parker struggled to find her shot early on, but had 20 points, 14 rebounds, and four assists in a losing effort for the Sky, while Kahleah Copper and Emma Meesseman had 18 points apiece.
Here are some key takeaways from the game:
Aces get revenge, make a statement
The last time these two teams met, the Aces scored a record 41 points in the first quarter and jumped out to a dominant 28-point lead. Then they gave it all away, as the Sky pulled off the biggest comeback in WNBA history and handed the Aces their most embarrassing defeat of the season.
It was clear early on that the Aces were intent on getting some revenge. They jumped out to a 13-0 lead in less than two minutes, and were playing with tremendous energy on both sides of the ball. And when the Sky did make their eventual run, the Aces had an answer every single time. They were not about to let this lead slip away, and were never truly in danger of losing the game.
"[I told them] just to stay solid defensively, handle the pressure and to continue to play defense," Aces coach Becky Hammon said. "That game that we had in Vegas, they're the champs. They're not going to go away easily. It's not going to be easy. That's a very, very good basketball team. They're coached very well. They understand how to play. They understand what it takes to win."
"Even tonight, it wasn't easy. They're not going anywhere. I don't care if we're up by 50. They're not going anywhere. My message to them was just to stay solid defensively, and then offensively handle their pressure."
While this game didn't count in the league standings, the Aces' performance was also a statement that they're coming for the No. 1 seed and the WNBA title. After a red-hot start to the season, the Aces stumbled into the All-Star break while the Sky surged into first place and looked like the team to beat. Not so fast said the Aces, who have won five of six since the break and just beat the Sky in their own gym. If anyone thought otherwise, this game showed the Aces are a serious contender.
Wilson dominates but doesn't get MVP
When WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert took the microphone during the postgame ceremony, everyone expected she would announce A'ja Wilson as the game's MVP. Even the eventual winner Chelsea Gray, who was in the background saying "is that me?" seemed surprised.
But while she may not have gotten the trophy nor the extra $5,000 bonus, Wilson was the best player on the floor in the game. She finished with 17 points, 17 rebounds, two assists, two steals and six blocks in a dominant two-way performance that showed why she's one of the leading candidates for league MVP. There have only been two 15-point, 15-rebound, five-block games in the WNBA this season; Wilson has both of them.
Her effort on the defensive end was particularly impressive. She was all over the place right from the opening tip, when she blocked a 3-point attempt by Allie Quigley on the Sky's first possession. The Sky shot 40.5 percent from the field and settled for 30 3-pointers in large part because Wilson was shutting down the paint.
"No, but [defense is] a mindset," Wilson said. "It's a heart decision. Defense doesn't take a lot. You don't have to be necessarily talented to play defense. You just have to want it."
"At the end of the day, I'm going to make sure my teammates know, like I said, that I'm there and we buckle in. When we are locked in on the defensive end, like I was telling [Kelsey Plum], this doesn't have to be just a Commissioner's Cup game. This could be an every-game thing for us. But it's just a shift of the mindset. So hopefully going into this long road trip that we have ahead that we can stay and maintain that mindset."
Plum trolled with a new trophy
Aces guard Kelsey Plum was named All-Star Game MVP earlier this month in this very same building. Unfortunately, much of the conversation centered on the embarrassingly small trophy the league gave her instead of her performance.
Following the game on Tuesday, commissioner Cathy Engelbert showed a good sense of humor by trolling Plum with a new, even smaller trophy. She handed the All-Star a big box during the Aces' celebration, and after a brief moment of confusion Plum opened it in front of her teammates to a lot of laughter.
"It was funny," Plum said. "Honestly, when she handed me the box and I opened it, I was thinking it was going to be a significant trophy, and then it was smaller than the original one, which was already like microscopic. She said the other one is on back order, which is just -- That's funny, Cathy."
While the initial trophy snafu is a perfect example of an easy mistake the league should never let happen in the first place, this was a pretty funny response by Engelbert.