A stylistic divide defines the WNBA Finals

Clay Kallam

Clay Kallam

A superb WNBA season will conclude with a fascinating and hard-to-predict final series that highlights the difference between old-school grit and 2022 flash.

The grit comes from the Connecticut Sun, who gleefully embrace their bully ball image by pounding the boards and their opponents in equal measure. The flash comes from the long distance shooting and high-style show of the Las Vegas Aces. The collision – and there will be as many of those as the officiating allows the Sun to get away with – between the two is as stark a contrast in methodology as one can find in the copy-cat world of professional sports.

Let’s start with the Sun and their leader, the brutally powerful Alyssa Thomas. Playing, as she has for several years, with two torn labrums, Thomas literally can’t lift her arms to shoot the ball without pain. So she relies on whirling drives to the basket, awkward push shots and a generous disregard for the health and safety of everyone on the court, including herself.

She is accompanied by veteran DeWanna Bonner, who looks as though she would be blown over if the air-conditioning fans were turned to high, but whose pointy elbows and extreme distaste for losing make her a constant threat to spark a confrontation. Bonner’s tete-a-tete with Kahleah Copper of the Chicago Sky turned the decisive fifth game of that series around, and her disposition is unlikely to improve when the Finals begin Sunday.

Next up is Courtney Williams, a marvelously athletic wing who has somehow turned the low-percentage mid-range jumper into a winning play while bouncing off opponents and the floor in equal measure.

And let’s not forget Brionna Jones, as old-school a post as old-school can get, who comes off the bench to give the Sun size and a double-post set that is as vintage as the two-hand set shot.

All of this power ball plays against the strengths of one-time MVP Jonquel Jones, a smooth 6-6 post who has made 36.8% of her threes in the eight-game Sun postseason, but Jones just might be the most fired-up Sun player when game one tips off. The reason? The reigning MVP is A’ja Wilson of Las Vegas, who’s shorter and more social media-friendly than Jones, and gets more attention than it’s likely Jones thinks she deserves. These two will essentially go head-to-head in the best-of-five series, and it should be one of the more fascinating subplots as the games roll on.

Equally important, though, is a Las Vegas player who hasn’t gotten much attention, primarily because she’s been nursing a sore knee since the end of the regular season. Despite coming off the bench, Dearica Hamby played the fifth most minutes of anyone on Becky Hammon’s roster, and she was not only the second-best rebounder but also second in the defensive metric, Defensive Win Shares.

Hamby made token appearances in the four-game win over the Seattle Storm, but if she’s close to 100%, she gives Las Vegas a boost on the boards and adds a strong defender to a perimeter that needs one.

And if Hamby doesn’t score much, that’s not an issue, as Kelsey Plum and Chelsea Gray are happy to take lots of shots. Though Plum has slumped in the playoffs, especially from three-point range, Gray has played phenomenally, making big shot after big shot and using her high basketball IQ, raw strength and tool belt of elite skills to dominate in postseason.

Even if Gray regresses to the mean – no one can expect her to shoot 62.6% from the field and 59.5% from three in the WNBA finals – so too should Plum, getting her closer to her 42% beyond-the-arc regular-season mark from her 28.2% in postseason.

Both coaches are outstanding, as Hammon was seriously touted as a legit candidate to be the first female head coach in the NBA after a long run in San Antonio, and Curt Miller has guided the Sun to the WNBA semifinals for four straight seasons.

And if the semifinal series are any guide, the finals should be close, competitive and controversial. The officiating will be excoriated, the fans will be frenetic and the players have all shown they can shine on a big stage, a combination that should deliver a fitting conclusion to a consistently well-played WNBA season.

As for a prediction, despite all the star power, it most likely comes down to the health of Hamby’s knee. If she’s 100%, the scales tip to Las Vegas; if not, look for the bullies to wind up with the Aces’ lunch money, and the Sun to finally shine a WNBA title trophy.

(Statistics courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com)

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Clay Kallam is a lifelong East Bay resident who spent several decades in local journalism -- and still writes for Diablo Magazine (among others). Over the years, he has covered just about every aspect of life in the Bay Area, from rock-and-roll to the arts to political coverage to food to sports. On the food front, he does not claim to be a critic, but rather someone who enjoys a good meal, a well-made drink and a nice red wine. As for sports, he has written for national publications (including Sports Illustrated and Slam) and covers girls' basketball across the nation for MaxPreps. He is a high school coach and a serious fan of the local teams -- and savored every minute of the Giants' and Warriors' championships. He graduated from Acalanes, UC Santa Barbara (ancient history) and Cal (philosophy). He lives in Walnut Creek with his wife Maggi, who takes many of the food photos. He appreciates his readers and is always happy to talk about anything he's written. His food experiences can be found at #dishdining on Instagram, and emails can be sent to claykallam@gmail.com.

Walnut Creek, CA

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