The WNBA Finals came to a close last Sunday when the Las Vegas Aces defeated the Connecticut Sun in Game 4 of the final series. The 78-71 victory gave the Aces their first franchise championship. This season, the WNBA returned to a series model for all rounds of the playoffs instead of single-elimination games. The first round was a best-of-three series, and the semifinal and final rounds were both best-of-five series. The first-ranked Aces defeated the Phoenix Mercury 2-0 in the first round of the playoffs and then the Seattle Storm 3-1 in the semifinal round. On the other side of the bracket, the third-ranked Connecticut Sun defeated the Dallas Wings 2-1 in the first round and the Chicago Sky 3-2 in the semifinal round. The Aces went on to defeat the Sun 3-1 in the final series.
The game opened with a quick basket by Sun guard DeWanna Bonner, but the Aces recovered and jumped to a 10-point lead with two minutes left in the first quarter. The Sun clawed their way back into the game, scoring nine straight points in the end of the first quarter and beginning of the second. However, they were unable to take the lead, and Las Vegas finished the first half leading 30-28.
The third quarter remained tight, with neither team leading by more than five points the entire quarter. Former Notre Dame star Jackie Young scored six of her thirteen points in the third quarter and added a steal to keep the Aces ahead by four heading into the fourth quarter. The Aces managed to maintain their small lead until Brionna Jones of the Sun sunk two free throws to put her team up by one point with just under two minutes left in the game. However, the Sun did not score again after that, and the Aces cruised to their first-ever championship. The Aces’ Chelsea Gray was named the finals MVP, finishing the game with 20 points, 5 rebounds and 6 assists. Former Notre Dame guard Jackie Young also contributed a balanced effort to the Aces’ victory, finishing with 13 points, 8 assists, 5 rebounds and 2 steals.
A former star for the Irish, Young left Notre Dame for the WNBA a year early, which is uncommon for female athletes. She was the first overall pick in the 2019 draft. She had a breakout season this year, earning the 2022 WNBA Most Improved Player award, and also finished eleventh in ESPN’s post-season rankings after beginning the 2022 season unranked. Young averaged 15.9 points per game during the regular season and continued to fill the stat lines during the playoffs, averaging 12.5 points, 3 assists and 4.1 rebounds per game in the postseason. She played a key role in most of the Aces’ playoff wins, most notably by hitting a buzzer-beater in Game Three of the Finals to send the game into overtime. Young is expected to stay with the Aces next season.