A'ja Wilson has been the face of the Las Vegas Aces franchise ever since she was picked No. 1 in 2018.
She has lived up to that billing on and off the court, and now she has the team one victory away from the organization's first WNBA championship. Las Vegas leads the best-of-five series 2-0 heading into Game 3 against the Sun on Thursday night in Connecticut.
“She gets it. She understands leadership,” first-year Aces coach Becky Hammon said. “I was watching like everybody else was watching from afar. She’s got beast skills. She’s a beast human. She’s a good one. I’ll go to battle with her any day.”
Wilson has been nearly unstoppable this season on both ends of the court, winning both the WNBA's MVP and Defensive Player of the Year awards. It's the second MVP award for the 26-year-old forward, who has raised her game to another level in the playoffs. She is the first player in league history to have five straight games of 20 points and 10 rebounds in the WNBA playoffs.
“You can say it’s a run but she’s just done that all season,” Aces teammate Kelsey Plum said. “I felt like she’s been the most consistent player night in, night out offensively and defensively in this league and that’s why she’s MVP. It’s tremendous."
It's not just on offense. In one sequence in Game 1 of the Finals, she blocked a shot on one end and then sprinted down the court to convert a layup on the side.
“I think like we talk about her numbers offensively but she’s holding it down in the paint defensively. Like a two-way player through and through,” Aces guard Chelsea Gray said. “Rebounding, snatching her rebounds, blocking shots, having our back when I get beat. So like all that, and she’s doing production on the offensive end.”
Hammon has been riding her young star throughout the playoffs. She played all but four minutes in the semifinal win over Seattle that knocked out WNBA icon Sue Bird and Breanna Stewart. She has played 296 of the 325 minutes in the postseason so far, averaging 21.6 points and 10.8 rebounds with 24 blocks. She's also shooting nearly 58% from the field.
Beyond the stats, Wilson also has been more comfortable in a leadership role this season. She exhorted her teammates in Game 1 when the Sun were making a run. She cussed out Plum before Game 2 to get her going.
“I have ways that I talk to my teammates to get them to understand where I need to be and where we need to be," Wilson said. "Yeah, I cussed her out.”
Being the face of a franchise is nothing new for Wilson. She led her hometown South Carolina Gamecocks to the school's first NCAA championship, and now a statue of her stands in front of the arena.
One more win in the Finals and there might be one in Las Vegas soon as well.
AP freelancer W.G. Ramirez in Las Vegas contributed to this report
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