WNBA Finals 2022 predictions and biggest questions for Las Vegas Aces vs. Connecticut Sun

In a season where there could have been multiple options for the last two teams standing in the 2022 WNBA Finals, it looked like Chalk might win. Until suddenly no more.

The No. 1-seeded Las Vegas Aces and No. 2-seeded Chicago Sky posted a regular-season best record of 26-10 and looked set for a championship series matchup. That was until Connecticut Sun, number 3, rattled a “What just happened?” 18-0 run to stun the Sky on Thursday and win their semi-final series.

And now, the Aces will be basking in the sun in the best-of-five WNBA Finals starting Sunday (3:00 p.m. ET, ABC) in Las Vegas.

That means one of these franchises will win the WNBA title for the first time. The duel will pit Aces freshman year head coach Becky Hammon against The Sun’s Curt Miller, who was an assistant coach at Colorado State during part of Hammon’s time as a player there in the 1990s.

This season’s MVP, Las Vegas native A’ja Wilson, will take on last season’s winner, Connecticut’s Jonquel Jones. Among teams, they also won Coach of the Year (Hammon), Defensive Player of the Year (Wilson), Most Improved Player of the Year (Aces guard Jackie Young), and Sixth Player of the Year (Suns forward Brionna Jones).

The final will feature what is currently the world’s hottest shooter, aces guard Chelsea Gray, and Las Vegas’ top-flight offense against a Sun defense that kept Sky to 63 points twice in the semis, including in Thursday’s final game.

Both the Sun and the Aces are franchises that started elsewhere. The Aces were the Utah Starzz as the inaugural team when the WNBA started in 1997, became the Silver Stars in San Antonio in 2003, then dropped the “Silver” and were just “Stars”, and then in 2018 the Aces in Las Vegas became The Sun was originally the Orlando Miracle, an expansion franchise in 1999, but relocated to Connecticut after just four years in Florida. This is Sun’s fourth appearance in the WNBA Finals (2004, 2005, 2019) and the second for the Aces (2020; the Stars reached the Finals in 2008).

What can we expect from the finals that most people didn’t expect? Here are the biggest questions for the series and our prediction of which team will lift the trophy.

Can Connecticut put the brakes on Chelsea Grey?

Gray burned through the Phoenix Mercury and Seattle Storm defenses, but this could be a tougher matchup. The Sun have relied heavily on their defense and Alyssa Thomas is one of the most versatile and tough defenders in the league. When Miller and the Sun players get their minds set on stopping someone, whether it’s a Guardian or a Post player, they’re often quite successful.

Thing is, Gray scored from seemingly every point on the pitch. It’s one thing to force someone into an area of ​​weakness, but Gray’s hotspots were everywhere. Wilson, Young and Kelsey Plum are also top scorers. In Tuesday’s Game 4 win over Seattle, Wilson, Plum, Gray and Young all scored or assisted the Aces on 97 points. As much as the Sun wants to prove they’re the team that can finally disrupt Gray, they’ll have their hands full.

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Chelsea Gray has ice in her veins as she sinks back-to-back possessions for the aces.

Personnel and gameplaywise, the Sun will be more physical with Gray than the Mercury or Storm could be. However, that doesn’t generally bother Gray. She talks about practicing taking awkward shots, the kind she knows teams will try to get her to do. And from the standpoint of strength, she will not back down from any defensive effort.

There have been many excellent games this postseason, but Gray has been the standout performer so far. She has also won a championship. She comes into the finals with a ton of confidence, while the Sun probably feels just as good about her defense. This will be a fascinating fight to watch.

Who comes out on top in the MVP battle?

At least based on the previous playoffs, this must go to Wilson. She didn’t have the best game in the semifinal opening loss to Seattle, and she said it really nagged her. But she came back with three outstanding games.

Wilson was already a very good defender in her first four seasons in the league, but she has taken on an even bigger role on that end of the court this season. Hammon said the Aces are asking Wilson to do more and different things defensively than before and she fully embraced that.

Jonquel Jones, who scored one of the Sun’s two double-doubles in Thursday’s Game 5 win, showed some of her best postseason stuff in that game. However, their throwing rate in the last three games (12 to 33, 36.4%) and turnovers (seven on Thursday) are a cause for concern.

Will a lack of depth finally catch up with the aces?

Las Vegas has relied heavily on its starters all season, and that’s not going to change. Wilson has played to a total of 4 minutes in the four games against Seattle, and when asked about it, she more or less shrugged. She’s 26, in fantastic shape and hasn’t looked tired all season. Don’t expect her to be plagued by fatigue now.

Admittedly, what worries the aces is Dearica Hamby, who started the regular season and was out for almost a month with an injury before returning for 4 minutes each in games 3 and 4 of the semis. However, that means Las Vegas has come this far in the postseason without Hamby having much to contribute. Whatever she can do in the final will help the aces.

Connecticut is perhaps a little deeper, as the sixth player of the year winner suggests. But on Thursday in the final game of the semifinals, the sun relied quite heavily on their starters.

Both teams have reserves whose contributions could be crucial. The Aces, for example, wouldn’t have won Game 3’s overtime thriller without guard Riquna Williams’ clutch shooting. And sun guard DiJonai Carrington can be a powerful factor in outside defense.

Which franchise is more desperate for a title?

Since neither has won a championship, one could say both. As mentioned, both franchises have been around for a while and have had their heartbreak in the postseason.

It was even worse for the Sun, who was good enough to win one of her three previous trips to the WNBA Finals. In 2019, for example, a few key stretches in the second half were what made the difference to the Washington Mystics, who won their first title back then.

Seattle defeated Las Vegas in the 2020 WNBA Finals. That wasn’t a streak the Aces could honestly win with the Storm’s performance this season. The Aces have grown up a lot since then.

Which team will win the 2022 title?

Kevin Pelton: Las Vegas in five games. I understand why people think this might be a one sided series. It’s hard to trust the Sun as we never know which version of the team will emerge from night to night, and stylistically, the Aces’ strong offense is a far cry from Connecticut’s tendency to stall at half places. Still, it’s worth remembering that The Sun had the best points difference in the league during the regular season. Connecticut’s strong frontline will make it difficult for Las Vegas to use small formations in this series, making it important for the Aces to get Hamby closer to 100% again. I’m expecting a competitive streak, although not as entertaining as we saw between the Aces and Storm in the semifinals.

Alexa Philipou: Las Vegas in five games. The Aces went 2-1 against the Sun in the regular season, but Connecticut missed Coach Miller (COVID-19) in the first game and Jonquel Jones (COVID-19) in the third meeting.

The Sun have demonstrated their ability to impose their “messy” playstyle on opponents – and their relentlessness led to a historic late-game surge in Game 5 – suggesting this series may be closer than many might realize . Outside of a terrible third quarter on Thursday, The Sun really figured out their offensive flow in Games 4 and 5 for the first time this postseason, momentum they’re looking to bring into the Finals. It could bode well for them against a Vegas team that has struggled defensively at times.

The ultimate difference will likely be that the Aces have the best individual player on the court and that she will elevate them on the biggest and brightest stages. Without Jasmine Thomas on the floor to contain her, it’s easy to see Gray continue her absurd post-season run in the finals. And while the Sun has a forecourt to contain it, it would be remiss to stop 2022 MVP Wilson from getting away with championship games.

In any case, there’s a treat in store for us as two teams that have been on the verge of winning it all for four seasons now go head to head against each other, while two young MVPs – arguably two of the top three players in the world – seek to add to their legacy, and each team fights for its first title.

Voepel: Las Vegas in five games. Getting past Chicago, a team the Sun just couldn’t solve during the regular season, should make Connecticut feel very confident going into the WNBA Finals. So should leadership from DeWanna Bonner, who won two WNBA titles during her days in Phoenix and brings a championship mentality to the Sun every night.

It will come as no surprise to see the sun push the top seeded aces at a distance. But Las Vegas has the kind of team bond Chicago seemed to lack at pivotal moments in the playoffs. And the aces can score big.

https://www.espn.com/wnba/story/_/id/34554014/wnba-finals-2022-predictions-biggest-questions-las-vegas-aces-vs-connecticut-sun WNBA Finals 2022 predictions and biggest questions for Las Vegas Aces vs. Connecticut Sun

Emma Bowman

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