Can Chelsea Gray repeat her 2022 WNBA Finals MVP run? The Las Vegas Aces look to their Point Gawd to tip them over the edge against the New York Liberty in the Finals starting Sunday.
The Aces have been destined for greatness since the beginning of the season, but let’s not forget how great they were before their offseason acquisitions. The team won their first WNBA championship last season over the Connecticut Sun and are looking to repeat.
In the Ace’s historic 2022 run, it was Point Gawd Chelsea Gray who anchored the team in the Finals. Gray was the overall playoff point scorer with 217 points, and averaged 18.3 points, 6.0 assists, 3.0 rebounds and 1.3 steals against the Sun. In their Game 4 victory, she scored 20 points on 9-13 field-goal shooting, six assists, and five rebounds.
While a lot of the talk surrounding the Las Vegas Aces’ (rightfully) falls on their MVP A’ja Wilson, they wouldn’t be where they are without the steadiness of Chelsea Gray.
So how did the Point Gawd come to be? Gray was drafted out of Duke in 2014, going 11th overall to the Connecticut Sun but didn’t play that year due to a knee injury she sustained in college. In 2015, she came off the bench for the Sun, averaging 6.9 points per game (PPG). Prior to the 2016 WNBA season, Gray was traded to the Los Angeles Sparks, her home team, born in Hayward, CA.
In her first season with the Sparks, Gray came off the bench as the team’s back-up point guard. She started to blossom into the Chelsea we all know during the 2016 Finals where she led the team with 20 points in Game 4. In Game 5, Gray scored 11 consecutive points in the second half, ultimately helping the Sparks win the title .
In 2017, Gray had a breakout season starting for the Sparks. She was voted as a WNBA All-Star for the first time in her career, and also led the league in three-point percentage. The Sparks made it back to the WNBA Finals the very next year, but lost in five games, failing to earn the back-to-back bragging rights. After the 2017 season, the Sparks failed to make the Finals the following year, and would either lose in either single elimination or the Semifinals from 2018-2020.
By the time 2021 free agency rolled around, the Sparks were a very different team. Candace Parker decided to leave and sign with her hometown team, the Chicago Sky team, and won the 2021 championship. Gray also decided to leave the Sparks and signed with the Las Vegas Aces on a multi-year deal.
The Aces trajectory shot upward once Gray joined in 2021. After a series of disappointing playoff losses, the Aces were coming off an A’ja Wilson MVP season in 2020 and were now far more competitive with Gray in the fold. The hiring of head coach Becky Hammon in late December 2021 was the last push the team needed to reach their full potential. And they were absolutely right. In 2022, unbeknownst to the team, the Ace’s season would be filled with history-breaking achievements and their first WNBA championship
It almost seems like destiny for Chelsea Gray. Thinking back to her first championship with the Sparks, Gray led the team to victory, won the chip, but ultimately couldn’t complete a back-to-back run. Could this be the Point Gawd’s moment for redemption? Will she help the Aces accomplish what the Sparks couldn’t in 2017?
In a bigger sense, whether or not the Aces defeat the Liberty in the upcoming Finals, Chelsea Gray has solidified herself as a mainstay in the WNBA. Especially with the current landscape of the league, being drafted 11th overall does not necessarily guarantee you a long term spot. It takes a few different things to help players remain in the WNBA: talent (of course), but also luck, patience, and showing up even when you have a small opportunity to impact. Gray has not only done that, but exceeded it by continuously making her mark and establishing herself as a top player in the WNBA.
That was really the spark (no pun intended) in Chelsea Gray’s career. She showed UP when she had a small opportunity in the 2016 Finals. Now, she has her place in the league, and is STILL showing up when her team needs her most. If Gray’s history in the Finals has shown us anything, it’s that she’s set to make a HUGE impact on this series, and the Finals is where Gray has had her biggest moments.
In the four regular-season games between the Aces and the Liberty, the record is split 2-2. In the “bonus game” between the two teams, known as the Commissioner’s Cup, the Liberty beat the Aces 82-63. In those five games, Gray only scored 20 points or more in one game, and no more than 16 points in the others.
As much as Gray can be a sharpshooter, she also has the capability to assist her teammates in a variety of situations. The best way to try and stop Chelsea Gray, as the POINT GAWD, is slowing down her assists. In three of the five matchups this season, the Liberty held Chelsea Gray to less than her season average in assists (7.3 per game). She’ll need to be firing on all cylinders to help the Aces get the edge in this series.
Obviously, we know that Finals Chelsea Gray is built differently. Her efficiency for one is other-wordly. Her ability to go on runs, similar to the one that helped the Sparks win the title in 2016, makes it so that the Aces can get ahead or come back from deficit quickly. Her ability to find her teammates and help them score is nearly unmatched in this league.
As mentioned before, Gray’s place in this Finals series almost feels like fate. Her most memorable moments come in the most important moments. She’s the kind of player that makes the WNBA exciting with her ability to turn it into turbo mode on a dime.
The Las Vegas Aces are about to face their toughest challenge in the last two seasons as they take on the New York Liberty in the Finals. If Chelsea Gray’s history tells us anything, it’s that the Aces have dealt themselves a good hand having the Point Gawd as their general.
Stats as of October 7, 2023 and, unless otherwise noted, courtesy of WNBA.com.