Everything you need to know about the WNBA Finals

This week, Above the Break previews the WNBA Finals and breaks down the advantages in the front court, back court, deep and more.

After months of basketball, the WNBA is reliant on the last two teams in the 2022 title fight. On Sunday, the Las Vegas Aces and Connecticut Sun begin their five-game streak to determine which team wins the title.

Neither of these teams has previously won a WNBA title. The Aces last appeared in the 2020 Finals when they were carried away by the storm in three games, while the Sun last appeared in the 2019 Finals, losing to the Mystics in five games.

As we prepare for the finale, let’s talk about some of the most important things to watch in this series.

Who won the regular season matchups between the Sun and the Aces?

31. May

The Aces defeated Sun 89-81, the seventh straight win for the Aces, who opened the season 9-1. A’ja Wilson had 24 points and 14 rebounds in the win while Jackie Young added 21 points and Kelsey Plum had 18. The aces were only 6-to-25 from beyond the arc but still made enough shots.

Connecticut was led by DeWanna Bonner with 14 points while Jonquel Jones made just four shot attempts in the game and went 3-on-4 with eight points and 13 rebounds.

2th of June

These teams’ rematch came just two days later, with the Sun winning 97-90. Jones was more confident in the win, going 7-for-9 for 20 points. Five Sun players hit double digits, with Alyssa Thomas hitting a double-double with 16 points and 12 rebounds.

The Aces shot better from deep and went 10-on-25. But A’ja Wilson was held at 13 points and the Aces only got five points off the bench, all from Theresa Plaisance. Jackie Young led the team with 26 points in the standings.

17th July

The Aces won the last meeting of these teams 91-83. It was another game where the aces shot poorly from 3 and went 9 to 36, but three players scored at least 20 points, with Chelsea Gray recording 21 points and nine assists. The team picked up 13 points from the bench.

The Sun was without Jonquel Jones in that game, but DeWanna Bonner led the team with 19 points. Alyssa Thomas was the only starter not to score in double digits, and she ended up with just five points on 1-for-6 shooting but added 14 rebounds and six assists.

How these frontcourts perform

In order for the Sun to win this series, they must use their advantage upfront.

The Aces have the best player of the series in A’ja Wilson, but it can then be argued that the next three best bigs are all playing for the Sun.

Connecticut’s best shot here is to bully the aces up front. Jonquel Jones, Alyssa Thomas and Brionna Jones are all players who can easily run over a team.

According to Synergy, the Sun had the third most points per possession in the league at 1,017, behind only Lynx and Sky. They’ve used their size this year to have one of the best back-to-the-basket games in the W. Post-ups aren’t the most efficient way of playing the game, but in a short streak when you have an advantage of scale like the Sun, it’s a nice thing to have in your arsenal.

This is particularly useful in this series as the Aces rank ninth out of 12 teams in the league in defending post-ups and have allowed .967 points per possession against this style this season. (It’s worth noting that the Sun was worse at defending post-ups, allowing .978 points per possession, but that matters less here as the Aces weren’t particularly good at scoring post-ups.)

In order for the Sun to upset the aces in this series, they need to get a few shots at the basket.

That was a problem earlier in the Sky series, but the Sun has really cracked up in the last two games. Overall, the Suns have the second-worst field goal percentage in the restricted area this playoff at 56 percent, but they’ve improved that to 59.4 percent in the last two games.

However, their percentage in the restricted area will of course be lower than other teams simply based on the number of attempts they make there. The Sun averaged 31.3 attempts per game in the restricted area during these playoffs. The aces average 11.8.

This is a Sun team whose way to victory is to get the ball and put it in the basket. The Storm shot 67.3 percent against the Aces in the last round in the restricted area, so there’s definitely something there for the Sun to exploit.

Of course, that might not matter if two things happen. The first is this A’ja Wilson just stays A’ja Wilson. She has averaged 20.5 points and 10.8 rebounds per game on 55.4 percent shooting this postseason. She struggled with her efficiency against this team in the regular season, but when the aces can choose games that give Wilson one-on-one chances in space, many of the Sun advantages disappear.

Speaking of disappearing, the most important thing the sun needs is for Jonquel Jones not to disappear. She’s had some odd usage patterns this year – games where she’s barely firing any shots, or games like we’ve seen against the sky in the series where she’s going off the court in crunch time.

Alyssa Thomas is good. She can bully anyone on either end. But Jonquel Jones is the most skilled player on this Sun team. You have to make them work. Whether it’s making them shoot to nullify the aces’ big shooting advantage or running plays to get them downhill to the basket, Curt Miller needs to get his hands on the ball. If they don’t, the aces win.

Chelsea Gray is the X-Factor in the WNBA Finals

The aces have a definite backcourt advantage, so much so that I won’t talk about Jackie Young and Kelsey Plum, and I won’t talk about Courtney Williams and Natisha Hiedeman. These players are all good. Williams can make some big shots. Young has improved tremendously and won Most Improved. Plum would have been in the MVP talk if A’ja Wilson hadn’t been in the Aces.

But this is about Chelsea Gray. They had arguably the best postseason in league history. You can’t miss. If the sun doesn’t find a way to slow them down, this streak is already over.

In six playoff games, Gray is averaging 24.0 points per game on 62.6 percent shooting, with a 59.5 percent mark of 3. She has a true shooting percentage of 75.8.

Look at About the timeline data explorer, there have only been two instances where a player in the playoffs had a true shot percentage over 70 while averaging at least 20 points per game (minimum five games), which was the case in 2016 when Diana Taurasi averaged 23 .6 points scored at 71.5 true shooting percentage.

Gray has done this while also handing out 46 assists in these playoffs. Taurasi had 14 assists in their five-game tryout. To put it simply, no one has done what Gray does. Taurasi came closest, but she didn’t add the game on top.

Chelsea Gray can’t be missing at the moment. And it’s not even like she’s making a few uncontested shots. According to Synergy, 52 of Gray’s possessions this postseason ended with a dribbling jumper, while only 12 ended with a catch-and-shoot and only three of those catch-and-shoot looks went unguarded. (She shoots 100 percent on those three tries, though).

Difficult shooting. Smart Passports. If Chelsea does to Gray Connecticut what they’ve been doing all postseason, then congratulations to the 2022 champions, the Las Vegas Aces.

https://fansided.com/2022/09/09/wnba-finals-preview-aces-sun/ Everything you need to know about the WNBA Finals

John Verrall

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