Chelsea Gray settles and steadies Las Vegas Aces. She'll do the same for Team USA.

LAS VEGAS — Chelsea Gray’s contributions Friday night in the Las Vegas Aces85-74 win over Connecticut might not have been obvious to the untrained eye.

Her stat line — four points, two rebounds, one assist in 17 minutes — was underwhelming. Her shooting — 1-of-6 from the field, 2-of-4 from the line — wasn’t pretty.

But her presence is what mattered. Just ask her teammates.

“I know a lot of people love her fancy passing, but Chelsea gets us organized,” said A’ja Wilson, who recorded her 19th straight game of 20-plus, a WNBA record (she finished with 26 points and 16 rebounds). With Gray on the floor, Wilson said, “the right people are getting the ball at the right time.”

Opponents agree. Before the game, Connecticut coach Stephanie White said Las Vegas with Gray is “night and day” compared to without her.

The results certainly back up that claim. The Aces are 2-0 since Gray returned Wednesday vs. Seattle, significant because both of those wins, over the Storm and Sun, came against teams above them in the standings. They weren’t just wins, either, but statement victories — Vegas built 19-point leads in each game — a reminder to the WNBA about who has run this league the last two years.

The two-time defending champs looked flat-out bad the first six weeks of the season, panicked and stressed with the “point gawd” stuck on the bench nursing a foot injury she suffered in the 2023 WNBA Finals.

Then Gray returned, and it’s like the entire Aces roster took a collective deep breath. The five-time All-Star settles and steadies them, whether she’s on the bench or on the floor. Her energy is infectious, her IQ unmatched. She knows it, too.

“It’s a comfort,” Gray said. “When I get out there” — she paused to give an exaggerated, relieved sigh and smile — “it’s like ‘Ah, OK, this is what we’ve been used to for a couple years.’”

Chelsea Gray celebrates after Kiah Stokes scored in the Las Vegas Aces' game against the Connecticut Sun.
Chelsea Gray celebrates after Kiah Stokes scored in the Las Vegas Aces' game against the Connecticut Sun.

Wilson said that with Gray on the floor, everyone else can go back to their normal, natural positions “where we can flourish.” Gray’s presence takes pressure off other Aces guards like Jackie Young (eight points, five assists, four rebounds) and Kelsey Plum (18 points, four assists), who filled in at point guard during her absence.

But Gray being healthy is more than just good news for Las Vegas. It’s a positive for America as a whole.

When USA Basketball on June 11 officially announced the 12-woman roster headed to Paris, many wondered about the status of Gray and Brittney Griner, both of whom had missed significant time with injuries. (Griner played her first game of the 2024 season on June 7; she’s averaged 24 points the last four games and looks absolutely fine.) It was especially controversial to some that Indiana Fever rookie Caitlin Clark, the presumptive U.S. point guard of the future, was left off the roster despite questions about Gray’s health.

But Jennifer Rizzotti, the USA Basketball selection committee chair, had been in touch with the Aces and Gray’s camp and was assured Gray would be ready to go for Paris. And with the retirement of five-time gold medalist Sue Bird, Rizzotti and the committee felt Gray’s “extensive USA Basketball experience” — she won gold in Tokyo and helped the Americans to the 2022 FIBA World Cup title in Australia — was key for this go-round.

Gray is far from herself. Against Connecticut she went 0-for-3 from the field in the first half, throwing her head back in exasperation when her shots rolled off the rim (or missed it entirely). But there were glimpses of the old Gray, too, the one who earned Finals MVP honors in 2022. In the second half, with the shot clock about to expire and Connecticut chipping away at its deficit, Gray finally hit one of her signature pull-up, fadeaway jumpers with 2:51 to play in the third quarter. The crowd roared and the Aces’ lead went back to double-digits.

In Paris, Gray will be surrounded by other All-Stars — including three of her Vegas teammates in Wilson, Young and Plum. Her job, above all else, will be to distribute. She likely won’t have to score. Still, she can — and will — get back into a shooting rhythm (she averaged 15.3 points last season, shooting 49% from the field). She’ll rack up assists again (her 7.3 per game in 2023 ranked third-best in the WNBA). On Friday night, there were times it seemed the Aces had forgotten what it was like to play with someone with exceptional court vision, as a pass only Gray could see, and deliver, slipped through her teammates’ fingers.

That chemistry, Gray said, will “come back naturally. It’s also about picking my spots in the flow of the game. Everybody will get back to it. I feel great, I’m in a good place.”

She’s at home on the floor, and finally healthy. Her joy at both is evident. It’s likely to increase, just like her minutes and production will, too.

And as usual for arguably the best point guard in the world, her timing couldn’t be better.

Email Lindsay Schnell at and follow her on social media @Lindsay_Schnell

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Why Chelsea Gray was a Team USA pick over Caitlin Clark