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All I could think throughout one of the best playoff basketball games any of us have seen is that Chelsea Gray is breaking the game. A’ja Wilson, Gray’s teammate on the Las Vegas Aces, has dominated the last two games of the team’s semifinal matchup with the Seattle Storm. Chicago Sky forward Candace Parker has been on her own postseason heater.
But despite that, Gray stands above the rest in a fashion that cannot be overstated. This is Gray’s shot chart in the playoffs, per InStat Scouting.
— Mark Schindler (@MG_Schindler) September 6, 2022
It’s one thing to be on a heater and catch fire from all areas of the court in the flow of the offense. Instead, Gray is doing this on a diet of shots almost entirely self-created. Considering her 78.5 percent true-shooting percentage (league average was 54.1 percent this season), that’s staggering.
Slightly under a third of her attempts from deep are categorized as catch-and-shoot looks. She’s shooting 55 percent out of isolation. A 63 percent clip on shots taken as a pick-and-roll ball-handler, including 62 percent on her pull-up threes from behind the arc, is actually insane. When factoring in her otherworldly playmaking ability, it’s indeed fair to say Gray is breaking the game.
And it’s not like Gray is getting a steady diet of easy shots. Watch what she’s able to do here against one of the best defensive players in the league.
Gabby Williams literally has Chelsea Gray in a straightjacket here and it just doesn't matter pic.twitter.com/od7ktb5Dhe
— Mark Schindler (@MG_Schindler) September 5, 2022
Gabby Williams, who rightfully made All-Defense, gave her everything at the point of attack. Time and time again during Game 3 specifically, Gray found ways to beat that.
Here’s another example. What can you even do here? Williams has length, she has lateral quickness, she has good functional strength and reaction speed, and again, Gray figures out what she has to do to get the better of this matchup.
Gray is remarkably strong. She can bully smaller players. Anyone with a higher center of gravity is at the mercy of her shoulders. Her off-arm play to create separation is second to none in the league. There’s no hesitation in her play, every move has intention and causes shifts in both her defender and the defense as a whole. The violence she has in some of her crosses and steps is awe-inspiring, just ask Jewell Loyd.
What’s made her run even more spectacular has been the brunt of the playmaking load she’s handled in comparison to her contemporaries. It’s not just about the assists per game — still, 7.2 a night is beyond impressive — but the actual impact of how she sees the court and manipulates it is otherworldly. Watching these games, and particularly Game 3, has made it clear that there is no winning formula for the defense.
It doesn’t matter what has or hasn’t been drawn up, Gray is one or multiple steps ahead of her defenders, dictating the terms of engagement like a general. That entire first half was Gray calling for different screening variations and sets to pull apart the Seattle defense. With how she’s shooting on top of that, what do you even do defensively? How do you counter this?
How do you counter a player who hits this despite a perfectly executed switch by the defense?
That is good defense! Gray just makes it so that Tina Charles mirroring her about as well as one can for half the shot clock doesn’t matter.
Trap Gray and she hits the roller exquisitely and in a timely fashion. Switch onto Gray and she’ll take advantage of a mismatch with her shot-making or by forcing a rotation with a drive-and-kick. Go under a pick-and-roll and she’s pulling the strap. Her all-time heater has put the Storm in a very clear bind.
That’s not at all to say that Seattle is doing a bad job — their defense against Gray has actually been quite good. Instead, there’s just no answer for her while she’s playing like this. She’s causing hesitation and indecision among a team that occupied the top defensive metrics in basketball for much of the year. When you hit shots at this absurd unreal level, there isn’t a “right way” to defend her, because every look is a good look for Gray right now.
As the series enters its final stretch — it could, potentially, end on Tuesday night, as Las Vegas holds a 2-1 lead in the best-of-5 — be sure to bask in the play of Gray, who is throwing down one of the single greatest shot-making stretches and displays of offense we’ve ever seen.