Las Vegas Aces become first repeat WNBA champs in 21 years, beating New York Liberty 70-69 in Game 4

Las Vegas Aces' A'ja Wilson and Mark Davis celebrate with teammates next to the trophy after Game 4 of a WNBA basketball final playoff series against the New York Liberty Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2023, in New York. The Aces won 70-69. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

NEW YORK — A’ja Wilson and the Las Vegas Aces secured their place as one of the greatest teams in WNBA history.

The Aces became the first team to repeat as champions in 21 years, getting 24 points and 16 rebounds from Wilson and a defensive stop in the closing seconds to beat the New York Liberty 70-69 in Game 4 of the Finals on Wednesday night.

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“It’s not easy, as you know. This is what it’s all about,” Wilson said. “Not a lot of people get to do it. To be short-handed and win is amazing. It makes the win that much better. It’s hard to get back to the Finals to win again.”

The Aces joined the Los Angeles Sparks (2001-02) and the Houston Comets (1997-2000) as the only teams in league history to win consecutive titles.

Las Vegas did it without starters Chelsea Gray and Kiah Stokes, who were both sidelined with foot injuries suffered in Game 3. Gray, the 2022 WNBA Finals MVP, was constantly in the ear of her teammates during timeouts and shouting encouragement from the sideline. Las Vegas was also still missing veteran Candace Parker, who had foot surgery in late July.

“We’ve been facing adversity all season, playing without different players. … We have some professional fighters,” said Alysha Clark, who was pressed into the starting lineup Wednesday. “To weather the storm of everything we went through, to show up every single day. To be in this moment right now and do it together, it speaks volumes about us, our chemistry.”

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. “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.

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