WNBA to crown first-time champion: Aces or Suns

The WNBA will crown a champion for the first time when Las Vegas and Connecticut meet in the Finals starting Sunday.

Both franchises have come close, with Connecticut falling to Washington in the 2019 Finals and Las Vegas to Seattle a year later. It’s the Sun’s fourth trip to the Finals, also going as far in 2004 and ’05. The Aces made the championship run in 2008, when the franchise was still in San Antonio and manager Becky Hammon was a player on the team.

“It’s very special for both franchises to be here and to have a new champion. I think that’s exciting for our league,” said Aces guard Chelsea Gray, who won a title while playing for Los Angeles. “I want it to be Vegas. That’s why I came here, you know, bringing Vegas its first championship among other things, but it would be awesome to bring it to this city.”

The Aces are the top seed after having the best record in the regular season and beating Phoenix and Seattle to advance to the Finals. Las Vegas has won two of three meetings with Connecticut, although Jonquel Jones and coach Curt Miller each missed a game with COVID-19.

The Sun have faced adversity for most of the season. They lost Jasmine Thomas to a torn ACL in May. Miller’s mother died in August. During the crucial Game 5, the Sun fell behind by 10 points, but closed the game on an 18-0 run.

“Everybody has stories in this league,” Miller said after his team defeated defending champion Chicago. “Ours – it seemed like one after another that we’ve had adversity this season in and out of that locker room. It’s remarkable that this group simply refused to use that as an excuse.”

Here are some stories about the best series of five:

WE MEET AGAIN

Miller was an assistant coach at Colorado State when Hammon played there in the 1990s. The two have maintained a good relationship ever since. Hammon, a first-year coach, is trying to become the first former player to win a championship as a coach since Sandy Brondello led Phoenix to the title in 2014.

“Great memories, great relationship,” Hammon said.

Hammon said she saw Miller a few years ago when the Sun were in the finals and he was an assistant with the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs.

“I wished him good luck in the Finals and followed him the whole time,” he said.

STAR POWER

A’ja Wilson has won the MVP in two of the last three seasons, including this year. Connecticut’s Jonquel Jones was last year’s MVP. Wilson was dominant in the final games of the semifinal series against Seattle, averaging 30 points, 12.3 rebounds and 2.3 blocks in the Aces’ three wins.

“It will be exciting. I feel like it’s the Finals now, so we’re going to put it all out there,” Wilson said. “They’ve got to guard us, we’ve got to guard them, so it’s going to be a very exciting series.”

Jones’ numbers in the win over Chicago weren’t as strong as Wilson’s, but she made her presence felt with key plays on both ends in the decisive Game 5.

BOARD GAME

Las Vegas has relied on its starters for most of the season with the only consistent offense off the bench coming from Riquna Williams. Dearica Hamby returned to the sixth woman role late in the season but missed almost a month with a knee injury before returning for the final two matches of the semi-finals. He only played four minutes in each of those games. Having a few more days to recover could help her contribute more in the finals.

“KP (Kelsey Plum) and I were talking one day, now we understand why Bill (Laimbeer) brought us both off the bench last year,” Hamby said. “It’s tough, both of those teams are top teams and obviously they’ve got a solid bench and we’ve got a solid bench and hopefully coming back healthy helps relieve that pressure.”

Connecticut has had very good bench play all season, led by Sixth Person of the Year Brionna Jones. DiJonai Carrington has also provided solid minutes as a reserve, and late season pickup Odyssey Sims gives the Suns more depth at guard.

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AP freelancer WG Ramirez contributed to this report.

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More WNBA Playoffs: https://apnews.com/hub/wnba-playoffs and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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