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HomeSportChelsea Gray's hot hand helps Las Vegas Aces win first WNBA title

Chelsea Gray's hot hand helps Las Vegas Aces win first WNBA title

8:45AM ET

  • MA


      MA Voepel covers the WNBA, women’s college basketball and other college sports for espnW. Voepel began covering women’s basketball in 1984 and has been with ESPN since 1996.
  • LAS VEGAS — How Chelsea Gray is on fire in the 2022 WNBA playoffs Yet? Teammate A’ja Wilson is the league’s MVP, but even she says sometimes her best move on the court is to avoid Gray.

    The 5-foot-11 guard is averaging 23.3 points, 7.1 assists and 3.9 rebounds while shooting 60.5 percent in eight playoff games. The Aces will enter Game 3 in Connecticut on Thursday (9 p.m. ET, ESPN), looking to complete a five-one sweep of the WNBA Finals. Gray’s success is something most players wouldn’t even daydream about.

    “She played well,” teammate Kelsey Plum said. “She wants the ball in big moments. When she has the ball, you feel safe.”

    If you’re an opponent, it feels dangerous. Gray, who turns 30 in October, is playing with the unshakable confidence of a seasoned veteran. She shot 18-for-27 (66.7 percent) from the field in the WNBA Finals — all other players combined for 36 percent — and has five 20-point games this postseason And a game with 5 assists, one short of an all-time record according to ESPN Stats & Information research. Gray’s overall 60.5 field goal percentage ranks fourth in a single WNBA playoff appearance (minimum of 100 attempts).

    Last year, Gray made her Olympic debut and helped the U.S. women win gold at the Tokyo Olympics.

    But Gray’s road here has been rocky, especially considering how her WNBA career started. “It was tough,” she said. “The toughest years.”

    Eight years ago, Gray was the 11th pick in the 2014 WNBA draft because of concerns about her knees, not her talent. In January 2014, four months before the draft, a fractured right kneecap ended her senior and collegiate career at Duke. Gray dislocated the same kneecap last February and missed the 2013 playoffs.

    She didn’t play in the 2014 WNBA season, during which time she really took stock of her life and her basketball career.

    “What do you do when the basketball is taken from you?” Gray said. “One thing is finding purpose in other things; what else can make me happy and fulfilled in a different way.

    ” My circle got a little smaller. I started digging deeper into what I really wanted to look like in the next few years. I always tell people there is a plan, a map for you. If you don’t see anyone doing this, create your own. I feel like I’ve done it. “

    In Gray’s rookie season in 2015, she was a backup for the Connecticut Suns, and she’s now facing the 2022 WNBA champion team. She averaged With 6.9 points, the Suns went 15-19 and missed the playoffs.

    That winter, then-Los Angeles Sparks coach Brian Agler went to Gray’s Spain. He looked at her and thought she could help his 2016 Sparks, which had big men Candice Parker, Neka Ogumek and Jantel Lavender but needed young defenders Boost. On draft day 2016, the Sparks selected forward Jonquel Jones and then traded her to Connecticut for Gray.

    This trade worked well for both teams. Jones has since led the Suns to the WNBA Finals twice, in 2019 and this year, and was named MVP in 2021. Gray went to two WNBA Finals appearances with Los Angeles, winning in 2016 and now in her third time. Finals. This time in Las Vegas, where she signed as a free agent in 2021.

    Agler recalled that late in the 2016 season, Gray was in four games Played single-digit minutes in the game, then a game she didn’t play at all. He texted her later to say not to read anything because the team will definitely need her the rest of the time.

    ” Her response was, ‘I’m glad we won; don’t worry. I’ll be ready for the next one,'” Agler said. “She’s just like that, such a team member, such a leader.”

    In the Sparks’ next game two days later, Gray scored 20 points and played in double figures in this game. Playing in every game for the rest of the season allowed Los Angeles to go on to win the WNBA title.

    Gray played a total of five years with the Sparks. As a California native who grew up fond of the Sacramento Monarchs and their point guard Tica Penichello, Gray had a hard time thinking about leaving the Sparks. But Las Vegas was just around the corner, and the Aces put in a full court press to sign her as a free agent.

    “It’s not just one thing,” Gray said of her decision to join Trump. “That’s how the organization works from the top down, including my conversations with [team owner] Mark Davis. And the people on the team.

    ” A’ja is me and USA Basketball There was a relationship, and then I came here to visit, it felt very natural. “

    Last season, Gray helped the Aces reach the semifinals, where they won the championship. Phoenix Mercury played five games and lost. Las Vegas upset , but it makes the Aces more determined for 2022.

    Gray said her 2016 WNBA title experience helped in part in the pursuit of this year’s title, but it’s also long in sports That’s a thing of the past.

    “The game has changed from 2016 to now, and it seems like there are so many threes left,” Gray said. “But you remember how much it got here. Disaster. By the playoffs, it was really a laser focus for me, and I didn’t respond to anything else, not even the people closest to me. They know; I’ve become a bit of a hermit. “

    On the court, she’s a compelling attraction, and her shooting has been a highlight of the WNBA playoffs. Gray — who was ruled out in July , but was named the MVP of the Commissioner’s Cup championship game two weeks later — shooting 49.1 percent from the field and 34.0 percent from 3-point range in the regular season, but those numbers have increased to 60.5 percent and 52.0 percent % (26 of 50) in the playoffs.

    Through Game 2 of the Finals, Gray made 96 of 124 field goal attempts in the playoffs Controversial (77.4 percent), she’s shooting 63.5 percent (61-of-96) on those shots, according to ESPN Stats & Information — even better than the 50 percent of her uncontested shots this postseason (14-for-28) Even better.

    “What makes her so special is her ability to shoot contested shots,” Suns coach Kurt Miller said. ” This league is full of incredible players who can shoot. The difference with Chelsea is that she takes as many shots as anyone. Chelsea are the elite in this area, facing all kinds of players defending her, in front of her. “

    Two things help make this happen: Gray doesn’t need a lot of space, and she has a high shot of her jumper. Gray is able to lean back and over his head Shooting, which makes the game very difficult.

    Even her teammates sometimes marvel at her shooting, especially in clutch moments. Outside of basketball, they love her A sense of humour and broad musical tastes. For Wilson, the connection to Gray as a teammate and friend over the past two years has been a joy.

    “I’ve never met passing people I’m looking at from a distance, and then when we get to America (basketball), it feels like we’re just reading each other’s minds,” Wilson said of playing with Gray for the first time at U.S. national team training camp. “I was like, ‘I need her as a teammate. ‘

    “We’re always on the same page. She’s in. I don’t know how to describe things. What Chelsea said was there. I think we just bounced off each other.”

    They also have the same competitive dynamics, which benefit Aces a lot.

    Wilson said: “That killer instinct and will to win, that brings us together.” “We need that connection. It’s a beautiful thing.”

    Becky Hammon called Gray her surrogate on the field; the two were instantly linked when the coach took over the Aces this season. Hammon has endured two serious knee injuries this season for her WNBA career, and can relate to just how difficult it was to start her WNBA career with Gray sidelined by injury.

    Road,” Harmon said. “It’s devastating when you’re an athlete, but you really only have two options. You’re either not getting better, or you’re desperately trying to get better. We’ve seen what Chelsea do. ”



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