September 10, 2022
What will it take for the Las Vegas Aces to win their first WNBA championship?
Connecticut is all that stands between the Aces and a championship. What will it take for Las Vegas to defeat the Sun?
After three weeks and two grueling playoff rounds, we’re down to two teams vying for the 2022 WNBA championship. The third-seeded Connecticut Sun will battle the top-seeded Las Vegas Aces with both franchises looking for their first-ever WNBA championship. The Aces beat the Sun in two of their three regular-season games, but anything can happen in the finals. What will it take for the Aces to bring a championship to Las Vegas?
As Aces head coach Becky Hammon has said all year, it will have to start on the defensive end. The Aces have been at their best when they are consistently getting stops and playing out of their defense. Their defense got key stops down the stretch of Game 4 of the semifinals against the Seattle Storm to seal the series for Las Vegas.
The most important thing to stop Connecticut is limiting their points in the paint. During the regular season, the Sun got 46.2% of their points in the paint — the third-highest percentage in the WNBA — and in the playoffs, that has only increased, getting 55.8% of their points in the paint. In two of the three regular-season matchups, the Aces outscored the Sun in the paint, and they never allowed Connecticut to score more than 36 points in the paint. The Aces will need to continue to dominate down low against the Sun to win the series.
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Probably the most important thing the Aces will have to do in the series is rebound. The Sun lead the WNBA in both total rebounds and offensive rebounds in both the regular season and the playoffs. Across their three regular-season games, the Sun outrebounded the Aces 115-99. While that isn’t a huge disparity, Connecticut thrives off second and third opportunities. The Sun scored 35 second-chance points on 26 offensive rebounds in the three regular-season matchups. The Aces struggled at times grabbing defensive rebounds against Seattle in the semifinals, and that allowed Seattle to get second-chance points, many of which were kick-out threes.
Another key factor will be forcing turnovers. The Sun have coughed up the ball 14.1 times per game in these playoffs and averaged 15.6 turnovers during the regular season. In the two games the Aces won against Connecticut in the regular season, they forced 36 turnovers. Since the Sun have played without starting point guard Jasmine Thomas (who is out with a torn ACL) for most of the season, they have struggled with consistency in running their offense and holding onto the ball.
Individually, the Aces match up pretty well with Connecticut. The Aces will most likely start with Kiah Stokes on 2021 MVP Jonquel Jones. This will probably lead to Chelsea Gray on Alyssa Thomas, A’ja Wilson on DeWanna Bonner, Jackie Young on Courtney Williams and Kelsey Plum on Natisha Hiedeman.
Connecticut is not as much of threat from the 3-point line as Seattle, so Las Vegas can sag into the paint a little bit. This will allow for more help on frontcourt players such as Jones, Thomas and reserve Brionna Jones. Having Dearica Hamby back from injury should help the Aces defensively when Connecticut goes to a bigger lineup. The most interesting thing is how the Aces match up if Hammon goes to the small lineup that worked so well against Seattle.
Offensively for the Aces, it may be a bit more of a struggle than it has been for most of the season. In the playoffs, Connecticut has only allowed teams to score 72.8 points per game, five points less than what they allowed during the regular season. The Sun closed out the Chicago Sky in Game 5 of their semifinal series by holding them scoreless over the final five minutes. On the other hand, the Aces scored at least 89 in all three regular-season matchups against the Sun. Connecticut is a scrappy, defensive-minded team, so finding ways to score will be key to defeating them.
One of the points of emphasis for the Aces on offense is to limit their turnovers. The Sun have been thriving on opponents’ mistakes in the playoffs, forcing 13.4 turnovers per game and scoring 16.3 points per game off of them. That is 20% of the total points they have scored in the playoffs. The Aces will need to be strong with the ball against the Sun and make the right pass.
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The Aces will also want to take advantage from beyond the arc. The Aces are averaging 11 made threes per game in the playoffs while the Sun are making just 4.3 per game. This is a disparity that the Aces should look to exploit at every opportunity. They have been getting great outside shooting in the playoffs from Gray, Young and reserve guard Riquna Williams. However, the Aces should look to get Plum going from the perimeter. She really struggled with her three-ball against Seattle. However, in the three games against the Sun in the regular season, she made 10 threes and shot 40% from behind the arc. Getting her going from beyond the arc will make Las Vegas a lot more lethal in this series.
Lastly, the Aces need to keep riding the hot hands that have gotten them to the finals. In these playoffs, Gray and Wilson have been outstanding. Gray is averaging 24.0 points on 62.6% shooting and adding 7.7 assists per game. She was an absolute killer in the series against Seattle, hitting clutch basket after clutch basket and making improbable shots. Wilson, meanwhile, is averaging 20.5 points and 10.8 rebounds in the playoffs and put together back-to-back 30-point, 10-rebound performances in Games 2 and 3 against Seattle. If Gray and Wilson continue to cook in the finals, that could be a winning formula.
Written by Matthew Walter
Matthew Walter covers the Las Vegas Aces, the Pac-12 and the WCC for the Next. He is a former Director of Basketball Operations and Video Coordinator at three different Division I women's basketball programs.