LAS VEGAS — In the third quarter of Game 2 of the WNBA Finals, Las Vegas Aces guard Chelsea Gray tangled up with Connecticut Sun guard Natisha Hiedeman underneath the Aces’ basket. While play moved to the Sun’s basket, Hiedeman and Gray slowly returned to their feet. Gray limped and tried to catch up, but when the ball returned to Vegas’ side of the court, a hobbled Gray still made her shot from the paint.
It was that kind of night for Gray and the Aces. Even when things went wrong, everything went right as Las Vegas won 85-71 to take a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five series.
Gray had her leg checked out in the locker room before coming back to finish the game with 21 points, eight assists and three steals. She was one of three Aces with 20 or more points. A’ja Wilson scored 26 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, while Kelsey Plum had 20 points to bounce back from her six-point performance in Game 1.
It wasn’t just Gray’s offense, though. She was key in shutting down Connecticut’s All-Star forward Alyssa Thomas.
“Chelsea Gray is just about the smartest basketball player I've been around. We can put her in conversations (and) her IQ is ridiculous,” Las Vegas coach Becky Hammon said. “So we are just letting her feel out and manage the game and kind of quarterback the game from the defensive end because a lot of times they move (Thomas) to the point when they do that.”
The Sun are known for their defense, and they threw everything they had at Gray. But the four-time All-Star can make off-balance shots with a hand in her face. In the Finals, Gray is shooting 67% on contested shots. Everyone else in the series are shooting just 36%.
“There are a ton of really talented players in this league that make open shots. … Chelsea Gray makes contested shots,” Sun coach Curt Miller said. “She makes incredibly difficult contested shots. It's a skill that she can be guarded and closed out on and hand in her face and has the — you know, separating her from a lot of people in this league that she can make those kind of shots.”
Now, the Aces are in position to win the franchise’s first championship with just one more win. The series heads to Connecticut for Game 3 on Thursday. Las Vegas sold out both of its first two playoff games and provided the Aces with a raucous atmosphere and a Game 2 halftime performance from L’il Jon. Going on the road, Gray said the team’s concentration is important.
“We have to focus on winning that first quarter and winning that second quarter and the big picture will happen,” she said. “It's the little things that gets the wins. It's not like at the end you try to go and outscore somebody. It's the little things. It's the rebounding. It's playing for each other — one more pass, one more play — and that's what we have been doing all playoffs. So we have to be able to do that for Game 3.”