A’ja Wilson loses at the WNBA Finals

A'ja Wilson vs. Seattle Storm in the third quarter of game four of the 2022 WNBA Playoffs semifinals.

A’ja Wilson vs. Seattle Storm in the third quarter of game four of the 2022 WNBA Playoffs semifinals.
picture: Getty Images

Candace Parker’s rebid, crushed by the Connecticut Sun in Friday night’s winner-take-all Game 5 against the Connecticut Sun, was the kind of history-changing hoops that will resonate more than Queen Elizabeth. Sue Bird is the all-time point god, but her career also hit the firmament Thursday.

For some, Candace Parker is the queen of the WNBA. Meanwhile, Phoenix Mercury guard Diana Taurasi has been named the greatest player of the WNBA’s first 25 years. However, she has not been a top 10 player in years. Based on the “what have you been up to lately” reality of pro sports, A’ja Wilson is the only queen WNBA fans should acknowledge. Not only is she more likeable than Prince Charles or her former teammate Liz Cambage, she’s also more successful. Monarchies are majestic, but the succession of the WNBA is more of a meritocracy.

IWithin 24 hours, Wilson earned her second MVP, ending Sue Bird’s career and edging her main rival, Breanna Stewart, from playoff celebrations. En route to MVP, Wilson averaged career bests in shooting from the field (50.1), 3-point percent (37.3), and finished fifth in the league in scoring, first in blocks, and second in rebounding. Against Seattle, Wilson rebounded from a tough 8-point loss in Game 1 by averaging 30 points a night in the last three games of the Western Conference Finals.

Wilson earned her first MVP during the 2020 WNBA bubble in a close vote over Breanna Stewart. However, Stewart’s Storm defeated Vegas in the final. This season, Wilson broke the decade-long tug-of-war between Tennessee and UConn grads at the top of the WNBA hierarchy. Not only did she take home the MVP, but she also finished the sweep as Defensive Player of the Year and is the only active player with a statue of himself on campus and she’s only 26.

At Saturday’s induction ceremony into the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame, South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley explained how she predicted Wilson’s meteoric rise to fame.

“When you play South Carolina we see so many scrap defenses and zones and a limp man [defenses] When she gets to the next level, it’s probably not often that she does triple work,” Staley explained. “She’s used to doubles teams, but she plays with so many other players that you don’t get to do that often. So you have a chance to see everything in her skills and she shows that by being a two-time MVP.

This coronation is not inevitable. The player she unseated as MVP, Jonquel Jones, is just as hungry and awaits her in the finals. While Wilson is the undisputed leader of the Aces, Jones operates in a different system. Jones’ scoring dropped to 14.4 points per game in 2022, but she led Connecticut’s egalitarian offense in scoring. In a diminished offensive role, Jones and the Sun eventually opened the door to the franchise’s fourth WNBA Finals.

After being benched in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference showdown and scoring six points on 3 shots out of 10, she only had nine wins in Game 4 before responding with a double-double in the series winner.

Jones matches the 6-foot-5 Wilson on the resume, but she can’t be counted on to trump the reigning MVP. She will need Alyssa Thomas’ help to disrupt Wilson’s coronation. Thomas, slightly shorter at 6ft 2, finished second to Wilson in Defensive Player of the Year polls while averaging a career-high 6.1 assists per game. In past matchups, it was Thomas who was tasked with defending Wilson, not the taller, longer Jones.

The Sun faces a steep climb to anger the Aces. As if Wilson wasn’t intimidating enough, she’s flanked by three All-Stars with unique roles in Kelsey Plum, Chelsea Gray and Jackie Young. Gray was an integral part of her first season at Las Vegas as acting CEO of Distribution Management of the WNBA, which led the entire league in assists, while Plum finished second in her first season as a starter for the aces. Young, the No. 1 overall pick in 2019, was just named the WNBA’s Most Improved Player.

However, they all orbit A’ja Wilson. The MVP of the Aces will define the postseason of the series and the WNBA for the foreseeable future. All she needs to complete her inauguration is her first WNBA championship.

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