Monday, February 6, 2023

2022 WNBA playoffs: Aces secure No. 1 seed after Chelsea Gray pours in career-high 33 points in win over Storm

With just over a minute to play on Sunday, the Las Vegas Aces were clinging to a 3-point lead over the Seattle Storm. As the Storm took the ball out under the basket, Breanna Stewart appeared to have broken free for an easy layup. Instead, A’ja Wilson recovered just in time to come up with an amazing rejection that started a fastbreak. Down on the other end, Chelsea Gray found Kelsey Plum for a dagger 3-pointer. 

A few timeouts and fouls and obligatory free throws later, the Aces had a thrilling 109-100 win. With it, they finished the regular season 26-10 for the most wins in franchise history, and secured the No. 1 seed and home-court advantage throughout the 2022 WNBA playoffs. They will begin the postseason on Wednesday night, though their first-round opponent is still to be determined. 

“[Getting the No. 1 seed is] cool,” Wilson said. “It’s pretty decent. We’ve been here before, but at the same time the job’s not done. We gotta continue to work on us and understand our system and still get to know our system and just have fun with it.”

As per usual, the Aces got big games from Wilson and Plum, who combined for 48 points, 12 rebounds, nine assists and four steals. But for all their impressive moments, the day belonged to Gray. The veteran point guard was in control from the opening tip, and finished with a career-high 33 points on 10 of 15 from the field, seven rebounds and nine assists. 

Per Across the Timeline, the only other player to have at least 33 points, seven rebounds and nine assists in a game in WNBA history is Candace Parker — coincidentally against the Aces back in 2018. Those are arbitrary cut-off points, of course, but it shows that Gray’s performance was extremely special. 

Late in the third quarter, Gray helped key a massive 12-0 run as the Aces erased a double-digit deficit and took the lead going into the fourth. On the final possession of the quarter, Gray stole a pass from Briann January, raced down the floor and drilled a 3 from the top of the key to put the Aces in front. 

In the fourth, Gray hit some big jumpers in the beginning of the frame, then got to the line for free throw after free throw down the stretch. She went a remarkable 11 of 11 from the line over the final seven minutes, and had 16 of the Aces’ 31 points in the fourth quarter. 

“She’s locked in,” Wilson said. “When the head of our snake is locked in, it trickles down. We need her to make those big buckets. We know she’s capable of doing it, so I’m glad she was able to showcase in front of a great crowd to end the regular season.”

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