Las Vegas Aces defeat host Chicago Sky to win second annual WNBA Commissioner’s Cup

CHICAGO — In what many considered a potential WNBA Finals matchup, the Las Vegas Aces won the second annual WNBA Commissioner’s Cup championship game Tuesday at Wintrust Arena with a 93-83 win over host Chicago Sky.

Kelsey Plum led all scorers with 24 points, while A’ja Wilson (17 points, 17 rebounds, 6 blocks) and Candace Parker (20 points, 14 rebounds) each had double-doubles.

But it was Chelsea Gray who was named MVP of the game with 19 points, 5 assists and 4 rebounds. Gray, the only Vegas starter not to be named an All-Star and who attended the game earlier this month in Chicago, instead had her own special moment at Wintrust this week and was embraced by her teammates as she rose to prominence as MVP.

“At the end of the day you can talk about the numbers and this and that, but she wins games and that should be the most important thing to me,” Plum said of Gray. “She’s the MVP tonight, but she’s led our team all season. To be honest I feel like she’s not getting the love and recognition she deserves and I’m really really glad that people saw that tonight.”

Despite Tuesday’s loss, defending WNBA champion Sky (21-7) remains in first place in the WNBA standings and the Aces (20-8) in second place with less than three weeks left in the regular season. The teams, the only two so far to earn the playoff spots, have led the standings for most of the season.

Each player in the Aces received $30,000, with Gray taking home an additional $5,000 for being named MVP. Each Sky player earned $10,000. Coinbase, the presenting sponsor of the cup, is also awarding an additional $5,000 cryptocurrency bonus for each player in championship play.

The cup also included $165,000 donated to charities in all 12 franchise markets.

Tuesday’s game was eerily similar to the Aces’ loss to Sky in late June, as the Aces squandered a 28-point lead to give Sky their biggest win in league history. This time around, Vegas stayed on course during Chicago’s comeback effort to take care of business.

The Aces rocked the sky on their heels from the start, scoring the first 13 points of the game and jumping as high as 23 points in the second quarter. Chicago finally found a groove and started hitting its outside shots, with an Emma Meesseman 3 cutting the deficit to 12 in the last minute of the first half before Jackie Young’s putback layup extended Vegas’ lead back to 14 at the break.

Kahleah Copper and Rebekah Gardner found success as they rode downhill to help the Sky pull within seven with less than 20 seconds remaining on the third move, but Plum’s 3 to take a 10-point lead into the final frame brought the rest of the momentum to the Aces, allowing them to hold a double-digit lead for most of the fourth quarter.

“We had some slow starts against this team and had to fight our way out,” Parker said of the lessons the team learned in Tuesday’s championship setting. “So I think it’s more like we don’t have to face adversity. I think we’re built for it. But it’s not about getting into it.”

The Aces join the Seattle Storm, who won the first iteration of the cup when they defeated the Connecticut Sun 79-57 at a neutral venue in Phoenix last season as Commissioner’s Cup champions.

Coaches James Wade (Chicago) and Becky Hammon (Vegas), both citing their experiences in similar “cups” abroad, said they like how the WNBA introduced its own tournament during the season.

“I think it’s really interesting,” Wade said before the game. “I think over time as the tradition grows you’ll see more and more teams take pride in it, especially when you add the element of the charitable cause you’re playing for there’s even more appeal. … It gives you championship experience when it comes to gambling for money. I think it’s good all round.”

Since the All-Star hiatus, the Aces have won six of their seven games and have once again focused on defense. The Sky shot 40.5% from the field against the Aces and just 20% from 3.

“We had a little moment of coming to Jesus after All-Star,” Hammon said. “I think the way we ended that in the last two and a half weeks before All-Star left everyone in pretty bad taste. Right now it’s all about defense. … They mostly responded, I thought.”

And while they appropriately celebrated Tuesday’s victory – Hammon could be seen on social media initiating the champagne shower in the dressing room, Gray brought a bottle to the post-game media room, and Hammon’s baby son Cayden even appeared on the Podium to take a seat alongside his mother and her players – the aces know this is just a step towards their greater ambitions.

“It’s a game. We’re obviously happy to win it, but it’s not the ultimate goal,” Hammon said. “It’s a nice little thing and I want the girls to remember how it feels. I want them to remember how we got here, what’s together and how we played together.”

https://www.espn.com/wnba/story/_/id/34300068/las-vegas-aces-defeat-host-chicago-sky-win-second-annual-wnba-commissioner-cup Las Vegas Aces defeat host Chicago Sky to win second annual WNBA Commissioner’s Cup

Emma Bowman

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