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Duke’s Chelsea Gray key to Las Vegas Aces’ first WNBA title

former Duke basketball player Chelsea Gray
Mitchell Northam
After winning an Olympic Gold Medal, former Duke basketball player Chelsea Gray is recognized at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Dec. 15, 2021 in Durham, N.C.

The Las Vegas Aces won the Women’s National Basketball Association’s championship on Sunday, topping the Connecticut Sun 78-71 in Game Four of the Finals in Uncasville, Conn.

It’s the first professional sports title ever for a team based in Las Vegas, Nevada. And it arguably wouldn’t have been possible without a former Blue Devil.

Aces’ point guard Chelsea Gray — a 2014 Duke University graduate — scored a team-high 20 points in the decisive Game Four to lead Vegas to victory. Gray also notched five rebounds, six assists and a steal, and dished out four of those assists in the crucial fourth quarter.

For her heroics — and for her impressive play throughout the playoffs — Gray was named MVP of the Finals. Across the Aces’ four games in the championship series, Gray averaged 18.3 points and 6.1 assists per game while shooting 58% from the floor and 45% from behind the arc.

“When you got a point guard like Chelsea Gray, I ain't even worried about a damn thing,” Gray’s teammate A’ja Wilson said.

Over the course of 10 playoff games this postseason, Gray averaged 21.7 points, 7.1 assists and 3.8 rebounds per game.

And get this — according to ESPN, Gray scored or assisted on 379 of the Aces’ 860 postseason points, a 44.1% clip, which is the most in WNBA playoff history. Gray also led all WNBA players in the playoffs with an effective field goal percentage of 71.9% and a points-per-play mark of 1.21, according to HerHoopStats.

Simply put: when the Aces needed her, Gray was at her very best.

Las Vegas Aces' Chelsea Gray (12) goes up for a basket as Connecticut Sun's DeWanna Bonner, left, and Brionna Jones (42) defend during the second half in Game 4 of a WNBA basketball final playoff series, Sunday, Sept. 18, 2022, in Uncasville, Conn.
Jessica Hill
Las Vegas Aces' Chelsea Gray (12) goes up for a basket as the Connecticut Sun defend during Game 4 of the WNBA Finals, Sunday, Sept. 18, 2022, in Uncasville, Conn.

“I couldn’t have done it without my team. They have been amazing, and I just worked so hard to be here and hold up the trophy,” Gray said Sunday. “This [Finals MVP trophy] is great, but that team trophy – that’s what I’ve been working for.”

Gray, 29, is one of six Duke alumna to win a WNBA championship, but the first to do it twice. Gray previously won a title in 2016 with the LA Sparks.

A native of Manteca, Calif., the 5-foot-11 Gray came to Duke in 2010 and was coached by Joanne P. McCallie. Gray made an impact right away, and was selected as an All-American as a sophomore and junior. Her career assist total of 545 is still second-best in program history. Duke won three straight regular season ACC titles and went to three straight Elite Eights while Gray was playing for the Blue Devils.

Despite battling knee injuries as a junior and senior at Duke, Gray was selected in the first round of the 2014 WNBA Draft — ironically, by the Sun, the team her Aces just bested in the Finals.

Since turning pro, Gray has been named an All-Star four times and was part of the U.S. Olympic team that won gold at the pandemic-delayed 2020 Olympics. She was also named MVP of the WNBA’s Commissioner’s Cup earlier this season.

Wilson continued singing her teammate’s praises Sunday, telling FiveThirtyEight, “Chelsea Gray is one of the most dominant players in this league, and she should have been an All-Star this year.”

After her performance through this postseason, it’s doubtful that folks in basketball will overlook Gray again. The numbers don’t lie; she’s one of the best in the WNBA.

Gray told ESPN after Sunday's victory: "They can keep that All-Star... I got the ring, you know what I'm saying?"

Mitchell Northam is a Digital Producer for WUNC. His past work has been featured at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, SB Nation, the Orlando Sentinel and the Associated Press. He is a graduate of Salisbury University and is also a voter in the AP Top 25 poll for women's college basketball.
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