Thursday, Oct. 26, 2023 | 2 a.m.
A’ja Wilson and Alysha Clark carried bottles of Ace of Spades Champagne into the podium room at the Barclays Center, ready to discuss how the Las Vegas Aces pulled off a WNBA championship repeat in style.
They only got through two minutes of their postgame news conference before teammate Kelsey Plum burst in, crashing the party with music blaring from the same Bluetooth boombox she used in the same situation a year ago.
The celebration on October 18 in Brooklyn, New York, was a nearly identical sequel to the one a year before at Mohegan Sun Arena in Montville, Connecticut. Merriment and Michelob Ultra were the focal points.
Over the top? Perhaps. Deserved? Absolutely.
The Aces had every right to party after making history by clinching their second straight WNBA title with a four-game series win over the New York Liberty. The 70-69 victory capped a season where Las Vegas won a league-record 34 games. The Aces were also nearly perfect in the postseason with their only loss an uncharacteristic 87-73 setback to the Liberty in Game 3 of the finals.
But they bounced back despite losing two starters to foot injuries in the defeat—point guard Chelsea Gray and center Kiah Stokes—to become the first repeat champions in the WNBA since the 2001-2002 Los Angeles Sparks.
“This one’s sweeter,” coach Becky Hammon said. “We went from darling to villain real quick. We had our good names slandered, and all these women did was lock in together. This is probably the tightest group I’ve ever been around.”
The Aces finished the year with the most efficient offense in league history, and a shutdown defense to boot. Here are 10 of the most memorable moments of the season recounting how the latest championship feeling came together.
February 1, 2023: Aces sign Candace Parker
Four months before their first game, the Aces started the memorable campaign by adding a two-time MVP and champion to their lineup. The 37-year-old Parker is known as one of the greatest women’s basketball players of all-time, and spoke of a motivation to capture another title as a sidekick to reigning MVP Wilson. As expected, they made for a scary tandem to start the season.
May 27, 2023: Aces crush Sparks on banner night
Because of scheduling conflicts at Michelob Ultra Arena, the Aces had to wait until their third game of the year to raise last season’s championship banner. After beating the Seattle Storm and Los Angeles Sparks on the road in the days before, they got their moment in front of their home crowd in a 93-65 shellacking of the Sparks.
The celebratory night was the centerpiece of a seven-game win streak to start the season. Las Vegas didn’t lose until June 8 at Connecticut.
June 29, 2023: Aces blow out Liberty in first meeting
Everyone expected the Aces and Liberty to meet in the finals all year, but the season was more than a month old before their first official encounter.
It ended up being pretty anticlimactic as all five Las Vegas starters scored in double figures to cruise to a 98-81 victory at home. Both sides had been called “super teams,” with the Liberty countering the Aces’ offseason additions of Parker and Clark by acquiring Breanna Stewart, Courtney Vandersloot and Jonquel Jones.
They’d go on to play some tighter games against each other, but the initial contest served as the first concrete evidence that the Aces werethe definitive team to beat.
July 7, 2023: Parker plays her final game of the year
The good vibes hit a screeching halt. Parker hurt her foot in a 80-78 loss to the Dallas Wings , but she was always expected to return until news surfaced that she had undergone surgery on July 25. The Aces rallied without their most famous player, however, and won eight straight after the Wings’ defeat before a 99-61 loss to the Liberty on August 6 at Barclays Center.
July 9, 2023: Plum goes for 40
Plum was the first one to pick up the slack, as she set a franchise record with 40 points in the first game without Parker. The Aces smashed the Minnesota Lynx on the road behind Plum’s career night to put the Dallas loss behind them.
August 11, 2023: Wilson’s turn
The franchise record lasted all of 33 days without company. Wilson matched Plum’s 40-point feat in another 113-89 victory, this one against the Washington Mystics at Michelob Ultra Arena.
August 22, 2023: Wilson ups the ante
Wilson tied the WNBA single-game scoring record with 53 points as the Aces also matched the league record with a 29th victory on the year in a 112-100 victory at Atlanta. Wilson went 16-for-23 from the field and 20-for-21 from the free-throw line, joking that “MVP” chants from the road crowd threw her off and cost her the chance at setting a new all-time record. She picked up steam in the MVP race with the performance, but Stewart ultimately picked up the honors at the end of the season by one vote.
September 10, 2023: T-Mobile Arena debut
The Aces set a franchise record with 17,406 fans in attendance for their first game in the Strip’s largest arena to close the regular season. The home crowd had plenty to cheer about as Las Vegas pummeled the Phoenix Mercury 100-85 to clinch the WNBA playoffs’ No. 1 seed over the Liberty.
October 11, 2023: Aces blitz Liberty in Game 2 of Finals
Most expected the Liberty to respond in a big way to a 99-82 Game 1 loss and officially make it a series. That didn’t happen. The Aces instead jumped out to a 19-2 lead in the first five minutes and scored a record 38 first-quarter points en route to a 104-76 victory. That meant they carried a 2-0 series lead into Brooklyn, which was ultimately too big for the Liberty to overcome.
October 18, 2023: Back to back
The Aces were driven primarily by offense all season but it was defense that carried them to the finish line.
Without Gray and Stokes, they had to jumble the lineup and start Clark, Plum at point guard and Cayla George at center. Lightly-used reserve Sydney Colson even logged 15 minutes.
It took everyone to shut down Stewart, who went just 3-for-17 from the field in the clinching game. Wilson won the Finals MVP award after a 24-point, 16-rebound performance.
“It’s who we are,” Wilson said. “We’re professionals. We’re ready when our name is called.
“This sh*t wasn’t easy at all. A lot of people counted us out from the jump. That just fueled us. We read it, we see it. That says a lot about us.”
Wilson said throughout the season that a team can’t be considered truly great until they win two titles. Mission accomplished.
Now the only question is, can anyone stop them from winning a third in a row?
“There’s a reason it hasn’t been done in that long,” Clark said. “It’s hard to get to the Finals multiple times. You never know when you’re going to get this opportunity.”