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Las Vegas and New York set for WNBA Finals matchup

New York and Las Vegas have been on a WNBA Finals collision course all season long as the top two teams in the league. Now they’ll meet for the league title.

The best-of-five series begins next Sunday.

The Aces have been there before, winning the franchise’s first championship last season. They are looking to become the league’s first repeat champion since the Los Angeles Sparks in 2001-02.

“We’re happy to put ourselves back in a position to win the ultimate prize, which is a championship,” Aces coach Becky Hammon said after the team swept Dallas in the semifinal series.

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New York Liberty forward Jonquel Jones (35) reacts during the second half of Game 4 of a WNBA basketball semifinal playoff series against the Connecticut Sun, Sunday, Oct. 1, 2023, in Uncasville, Conn. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)Jones, Stewart lead New York to first WNBA Finals in 21 years with 87-84 win over ConnecticutLas Vegas Aces guard Kelsey Plum (10) attempts to pass the ball as Dallas Wings centers Teaira McCowan, left, and Awak Kuier (28) defend during the first half of Game 3 of a WNBA basketball playoffs semifinal, Friday, Sept. 29, 2023, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Sam Hodde)Defending WNBA champion Aces score final 11 points, beat Wings 64-61 for sweep, return to finalsLas Vegas Aces forward A'ja Wilson (22) makes a move to the basket as Dallas Wings center Teaira McCowan defends during the first half of Game 3 of a WNBA basketball playoffs semifinal Friday, Sept. 29, 2023, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Sam Hodde)Defending champion Aces return to WNBA Finals, beat Wings 64-61 to complete sweep

New York advanced to the WNBA Finals for the first time since 2002 and is the lone remaining original franchise that hasn’t won a championship.

“The fact Liberty haven’t been to a finals since 2002 is wild,” Stewart said. “To know we have the entire city behind us is really, really special.”

While Las Vegas swept its two playoff series, New York had a little harder time reaching the title round. The Liberty needed overtime to close out Washington in an opening-round sweep. New York dropped the first game against Connecticut in the semifinals before winning the final three games of the series.

The WNBA Finals will feature the last two league MVPs, with Breanna Stewart winning this season and A’ja Wilson last year. Stewart edged Connecticut’s Alyssa Thomas and Wilson in one of the tightest MVP races in league history.

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Las Vegas and New York split four regular-season meetings this season and none was close. The average margin of victory was over 19 points, with the tightest contest being only nine. New York won a fifth matchup between the teams with a victory in the Commissioner’s Cup championship.

“The chess match begins now. This is a final, a championship,” New York coach Sandy Brondello said. “I’m excited. I know Becky will be excited, all the players competing will be excited. It’s a hard-fought battle but we’re battle tested, so looking forward to that.”

Brondello, who coached Hammon when she was still playing in San Antonio, share a bond as the only former players to win titles as coaches. This will be the first time in the league’s 27-year history that two former players are head coaches in the Finals.

The teams were built in different fashions, with the Aces using three straight No. 1 picks to get Kelsey Plum, Wilson and Jackie Young from 2017-19. That gave them a great nucleus to go along with last season’s WNBA Finals MVP, Chelsea Gray.

New York used free agency and offseason trades to turn the franchise into an instant title contender by adding Stewart, Courtney Vandersloot and Jonquel Jones. Those three, along with returning starters Sabrina Ionescu and Betnijah Laney, give the Liberty a formidable starting five.

“It means a lot. I can’t take all the credit. my teammates are amazing,” Jones said after helping New York eliminate Connecticut with 25 points, 15 rebounds and four blocks in Game 4. “None of this happens without all of us being bought into what we envisioned before the season.”

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AP WNBA: https://apnews.com/hub/wnba-basketball