Both have foot injuries and were wearing boots at Tuesday’s Aces practice at Barclays Center. Gray was on a scooter and Stokes on crutches. Neither specified exactly what the injuries were.
Gray hurt her left foot in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s 87-73 Game 3 loss. Stokes was less certain when her injury occurred, saying she woke up after the game with pain in her right foot and calling it “kind of a WTF moment.”
Aces coach Becky Hammon did not say both players are ruled out of a potential Game 5 back in Las Vegas on Friday. That door seems slightly open for Stokes. However, Gray’s answers indicated she was not expecting to play again this best-of-five series, which the Aces lead 2-1.
Asked if this will keep her out long-term beyond the end of the series, Gray — who is expected to be part of the 2024 U.S. Olympic team — said, “I really don’t know. Waiting to talk to people, and we’ll go from there.
“I haven’t had a big injury in over 10 years. It’s a little bit of a weird feeling like, ‘I haven’t been in this position in a while.’ I was trying to [walk it off] Sunday. That was my thought process at first.”
Gray, who was WNBA Finals MVP last year when the Aces won their first championship, suffered knee injuries that cut short her junior and senior seasons for the Duke Blue Devils in 2013 and 2014. But she has been healthy most of her WNBA career and had missed only one game previously in her three seasons with the Aces.
“You get to the Finals and you don’t get this time back. So it sucks in that way,” Gray said. “But I’m excited still to win a championship. We do it by committee. We haven’t been whole for a long time. Candace [Parker] has been out … so we’re kind of built for this moment.
“My team’s got me. My wife and my family are here. My head’s OK, my mental [health] is fine. There’s still a basketball game and a championship to win. I am going to try to figure out where I’m going to sit [on the bench]. But I’ll for sure be in huddles and everything.”
Parker, a two-time MVP, has been out since July because of foot surgery. But another Aces free agent signee, Alysha Clark, stepped in as the WNBA’s Sixth Player of the Year. Hammon indicated she wasn’t sure what the starting lineup would look like without Gray and Stokes, but she had confidence in the rest of the team.
Two-time MVP A’ja Wilson, who has been the Aces’ top player overall since being drafted No. 1 in 2018, agreed.
“I think our chemistry in the locker room has kept us alive in many, many games and situations,” Wilson said. “Just the sisterhood we’ve built here. I think it has saved us, and it is a safety net we have.”
Still, the Aces now have to face a New York team led inside by two other players who have won MVPs, forwards Breanna Stewart and Jonquel Jones. Clark and 6-foot-4 reserves Cayla George and Alaina Coates will have to back up Wilson in that task.
As for the guards, starters Kelsey Plum and Jackie Young both have experience running the point guard spot and initiating the Aces’ offense. Plum and Young, both All-Stars along with Gray, know they need to have big performances from here on out. The Aces also have reserves Kierstan Bell and Sydney Colson at guard.
“We do have people that can step up,” Young said. “Even though Chels isn’t on the floor, you guys will see her drawing on the board in timeouts and just being a voice for us.
“I’ll be looking over at the bench at her, just seeing whatever reads she seeing. She will be talking to me a lot. So she’ll still have a big impact.”
The Las Vegas players and staff all said that while this is a big emotional blow to the team, they are trying to stay focused on their goal of repeating as champions.
“What doesn’t show up on the stat sheet is Chelsea’s leadership,” Plum said. “Her decision-making, her making big plays on offense and defense. It’s really tough.
“But we’re not a traditional team in that the fluidity of the way we play with multiple guards helps us. But it’s going to be about the whole team elevating themselves for the game.”