Chelsea Gray #12 of the Las Vegas Aces dribbles against...

Chelsea Gray #12 of the Las Vegas Aces dribbles against Sabrina Ionescu #20 of the New York Liberty during the third quarter in Game Three of the 2023 WNBA Finals at Barclays Center on October 15, 2023. Credit: Getty Images/Bruce Bennett

As plot twists go during a championship series, this qualifies as a rather big one.

Las Vegas easily claimed the first two games against the Liberty in the best-of-five WNBA Finals. Then the series shifted to Barclays Center Sunday, and the Liberty rebounded with an 87-73 win.

But that wasn’t all. All-Star point guard Chelsea Gray, the 2022 Finals MVP for the Aces, suffered an injury in the fourth quarter. She hobbled to the bench and soon hopped down the tunnel.

When Las Vegas met the media Tuesday at Barclays before practice for Game 4 here Wednesday night, Gray needed a scooter to get to the court, her left foot in a boot.

But that wasn’t all. Center Kiah Stokes emerged on crutches, her right foot in a boot.

The Aces will be without two starters for Game 4, and as coach Becky Hammon said about a potential Game 5 back in Vegas Friday night, “I’m not holding my breath on either of them.”

This team already had lost Candace Parker, who underwent foot surgery in July. Hammon had been using a six-player rotation.    

But the Aces were still talking tough in the face of this devastating news.

“I love these situations. This is my whole frickin’ life,” said Hammon, who knows about beating the odds after making the Liberty as an undrafted rookie point guard in 1999 and becoming a six-time WNBA All-Star and a Hall of Famer. “I’m more comfortable in this position than the other one. I am not a good front-runner.

“I like being the underdog. I like being undermanned, underestimated, under, under, under.”

Hammon said she has “zero doubts” that Las Vegas is still going to get this done. The same went for two-time MVP A’ja Wilson.

“One hundred percent,” Wilson told Newsday. “My belief did not shake, shatter or twist even though we have two down. It’s just the next-up mentality . . . We’ve worked so hard to get to this point. We haven’t been full all year. It’s always been something. And so we just learned how to grind it out.”

Stokes wanted to play, but Hammon said she made the call to sit this former member of the Liberty. Stokes said she “just kind of woke up with some pain and went to see the doctor. I’m still kind of waiting to hear back.” So she wasn’t ready to rule out a Game 5.

Gray, who has averaged 15.6 points and 6.8 assists in the postseason, didn’t make it sound like a miraculous recovery was coming for her.

“Foot, painful, waiting for more information,” Gray said. “But, yeah, not good . . . As a competitor, obviously I want to play. You get to the Finals and you don’t get this time back. So it [stinks] in that way. But I’m excited still to win a championship.”

On the other side, Sandy Brondello was guarding against complacency.

“So we talked about that,” the Liberty coach said shortly before the news about Gray came down. “If she is out, it’s an opportunity for someone else.

“This is a team that’s been here before. We’ve got to make sure it’s all about us. We’ve got to be very intentional with what we do.”

Notes & quotes: Breanna Stewart and Jonquel Jones have starred for the Liberty, but they can become unrestricted free agents. Asked whether there are any worries about re-signing them, GM Jonathan Kolb said, “No, I don’t think that’s a concern. We’ve done things the right way here. I think we’ve made this a place to play, and I think they’re very proud to be members of the Liberty.”



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