Thursday, October 6, 2022

Aces vs. Storm Game 4 takeaways: Las Vegas wins thriller to advance to WNBA Finals; Sue Bird says goodbye

Late on Tuesday night, the Las Vegas Aces beat the Seattle Storm 97-92 in Game 4 of the semifinals to conclude what has been an all-time playoff series and advance to the WNBA Finals. This will be the Aces’ third finals appearance, and first since 2020, but they are still seeking their first title in franchise history.

Facing elimination, the Storm came out on fire and briefly looked like they were going to build a big lead in the first quarter. They were never able to pull away, though, which foreshadowed how the game would go. Neither team ever had a double-digit lead, as they once again battled back and forth until the very end.

As has been the case so often this postseason, Chelsea Gray came up clutch when it mattered most. With the game tied, 87-87, heading into the final minute, Gray hit back-to-back jumpers to give the Aces a five-point lead that proved insurmountable despite the Storm’s best efforts at a late comeback. 

Gray finished with a playoff career-high 31 points on 13 of 22 from the field while adding six rebounds and 10 assists. A’ja Wilson was also stellar yet again, going for 23 points and 13 rebounds on 8 of 15 from the field. Jackie Young also chipped in 18 points and came up with some much-needed baskets.  

Breanna Stewart was phenomenal for the Storm in defeat, pouring in a career-high 42 points on 14 of 22 from the field and 6 of 8 from 3-point land. Jewell Loyd added 29 points, as that dynamite duo combined for 61 of the Storm’s 92 points. In the final game of her career, Sue Bird had eight points and eight assists. 

Here are some key takeaways from the game:

Gray continues historic run

Every single time the Aces have played this postseason, Chelsea Gray has been one of the main storylines. That didn’t change on Tuesday night, as she continued her historic playoff run with another brilliant performance. Her 31 points were a playoff career-high, and she added six rebounds and 10 assists. In the process she became the first player in WNBA history to have a 30-point, 10-assist game in the playoffs.

That would have been impressive enough on its own. But, of course, Gray also came up with some heroic moments when the Aces needed them the most. With the game tied at 87-87 and the final minute approaching, Gray took control. First, she found space for a 3-pointer, then buried a tough pull-up on the next possession to give the Aces a five-point advantage. Those two shots proved to be the difference. 

For the postseason, Gray is now averaging 24 points, 4.3 rebounds and 7.7 assists on 62.6/59.5/88.9 shooting splits. And she’s doing so on a diet primarily consisting of 3-pointers and contested pull-up jumpers. Her shot-making during this run has been legendary, one-of-a-kind stuff, the likes of which we may never see again. 

Aces have a chance for first title

The Aces have had plenty of success over the past few years. They are 89-35 over the last four seasons, won a franchise-record 26 games this summer and are in the middle of the fourth straight playoff appearance. During this run they’ve made at least the semifinals on every occasion and were in the finals in 2020. 

They have no title to show for all that work, though. In fact, the Aces are one of four active franchises, along with the Atlanta Dream, Connecticut Sun and New York Liberty, that have never won it all. Guaranteed to have homecourt advantage as the No. 1 overall seed, they have a real chance to end that drought this season. 

Stewart’s career night not enough

After missing the playoffs due to injury last season, Stewart entered this postseason on a mission and raised her play to a level we rarely see, even from her. She scored at least 20 points in every single game, had three double-doubles, and in Game 2 against the Washington Mystics, fell two assists short of a historic triple-double. 

But as great as she had been, none of her previous performances could compare to Game 4. It took her nearly four minutes to get on the board, but once she saw a shot go down, she never looked back. She had 13 points by the end of the first quarter and finished with a career-high 42 on 14 of 22 from the field. Stewart’s big night was just the fifth 40-point game in WNBA playoff history and the first since Maya Moore in 2015. 

Time and again, when the Storm desperately needed a bucket, Stewart would deliver, often in difficult circumstances. Even in the fourth quarter, when the Aces were doing everything in their power to prevent her from even getting the ball, she managed to make an impact. Her step-back 3 in A’ja Wilson’s face with just under four minutes to play was absurd.

Ultimately, though, it was not enough. Stewart scored 45.6 percent of the Storm’s points on the night and got no help from anyone besides Jewell Loyd, who had 29 as the only other double-digit scorer. 

Bird’s career comes to a close

Down 2-1 heading into Game 4, the Storm not only had the end of their season hanging over their heads but the end of Sue Bird’s career. The Hall of Fame point guard announced her impending retirement in the middle of the season and needed a win on Tuesday night to keep on playing. 

It was not to be. Bird finished with eight points and eight assists, but also turned the ball over four times — more turnovers than she had in the entire playoffs up to this point. But while Bird was not able to walk off into the sunset with a historic fifth championship, she at least got to play her final game in front of the Seattle fans that have supported her for two decades. 

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