CHICAGO (AP) — Kelsey Plum scored 12 of her 24 points in the first quarter as the Las Vegas Aces raced to an early 23-point lead, then held on for a 93-83 victory over the Chicago Sky on Tuesday night to win the second WNBA Commissioner’s Cup championship.
Plum, who won the All-Star MVP in Chicago a few weeks ago, hit six of her nine 3-point attempts.
Chelsea Gray had 19 points — including nine pivotal ones in the third quarter — and earned MVP of the game.
“My team balled out today. We hooped,” Gray said. “I know I’m the MVP right now, this should go to them right there. Super proud of this team and everything we accomplished.”
A’ja Wilson had 17 points, 17 rebounds and six blocks as the Aces dominated early, then repelled several Sky runs in the second half. Jackie Young had 18 points.
Candace Parker led Chicago with 20 points and Kahleah Copper and Emma Meesseman each added 18. Defending WNBA champion Chicago closed to within seven points at the end of the third quarter, but lost a second straight game for the first time this season.
Chicago and Las Vegas finished as the top teams in the Eastern and Western Conferences with 9-1 records in the Commissioner’s Cup in-season tournament. The Sky (21-7) and Aces (20-8) also are 1-2 in the WNBA regular season standings and have secured playoff spots.
Seattle won the inaugural Commissioner’s Cup last year. The championship game doesn’t count towards regular season standings, but coaches and players of both teams said it’s a springboard for their stretch runs and a “measuring stick” against another top team with plenty on the line.
Members of the Aces earned in excess of $30,000 per player, while those on the Sky earned $10,000 per player. Gray won an extra $5,000 as MVP of the championship game
A new wrinkle this season, the WNBA is making $165,000 in donations to charitable and civic organizations during this year’s series. Teams selected one organization in their area, with each group getting $2,000 for a win and $500 for a loss in tournament play.
The Commissioner Cup winner’s organization will get a total of $28,500 and the championships game loser’s group will get $23,500.
The Aces selected ACLU of Nevada and are one of three WNBA teams to partner with a local ACLU chapter. The Sky chose My Block, My Hood. My City, a grassroots Chicago non-profit that mentors underprivileged youth through educational programs and “empowers communities,” primarily on the city’s South and West Sides.
The Aces blitzed the Sky early, racing ahead 13-0 just 1:55 in and building a 33-14 lead after one quarter and stretching the advantage to 23 points early in the second.
The Sky mounted a run late in the second quarter to close to within 12 points – and a crowd of 8,922 at Wintrust Arena crowd on its feet. Still Las Vegas lead 48-34 at the half on 52.6 % shooting largely dominant play.
“Our defensive tone was set from the beginning,” Gray said. “Coach was on us that defensively we play the right way.”
The Sky tightened its coverage in the third quarter a closed the gap to 7 points before Plum hit a 3 in the final seconds to make it 70-60.
NOT THIS TIME
The Sky and Aces entered 1-1 against each other in regular league place. Chicago’s win, 104-95, came on June 21 at Las Vegas when it rallied from 28 points down for the biggest comeback in WMBA history.
MORE THAN THE MONEY
Both teams’ civic/community groups say they’re grateful for the donations — and partnerships — they’re getting from the Commission’s Cup program.
“The Chicago Sky has been a great partner and I consider that more valuable than the money,” said Ernesto Gonzalez marketing manager of My Block, My Hood, My City. “They have reached out and been nothing but kind, inviting us to game and working with our staff and our youth.”
Athar Haseebullah, executive director of the ACLU of Nevada, saluted the Aces players, especially star A’Ja Wilson, for taking public stand on social issues the ACLU is aligned with.
“Members of the Aces are prominent figures in Las Vegas, “Haseebullah said. “When they make statements, people listed. Having their support only bolsters our work.”
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