Breanna Stewart edges Alyssa Thomas and A'ja Wilson for WNBA MVP award in tight race

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NEW YORK (AP) — Breanna Stewart was honored to win one of the closest MVP races in WNBA history.

The New York Liberty star took the WNBA's Most Valuable Player award for the second time in her career Tuesday, edging Alyssa Thomas and A'ja Wilson. There were only 13 points separating Stewart from second-place finisher Thomas of Connecticut and last year's MVP, Wilson of Las Vegas.

“It’s been an unbelievable season for the WNBA, AT and A’ja had amazing seasons, it just shows we’re reaching new heights," Stewart said. "That greatness shines in many different ways. That this race was so tight is kind of crazy, but I’m happy to be standing up here today.”

Stewart received 446 points (20 first-place votes, 23 second-place votes and 17 third-place votes). Thomas had 439 points (23, 12 and 25). Wilson received 433 points (17, 25, 17 and 1).

A lot has changed since Stewart last won the award in 2018. She's married, has a daughter, Ruby, recovered from a ruptured Achilles tendon injury. She also made the difficult choice to leave Seattle and come to New York as a free agent.

“It's been a roller-coaster of a journey and I wouldn't wish it any other way,” Stewart said. “To show that resiliency works. No matter the highs and lows, keep pushing forward.”

Stewart accepted the award an hour before the Liberty faced Connecticut in Game 2 of their WNBA semifinals playoff series in front of her teammates, grandparents, dad, wife Marta and Ruby, who was wearing an MVP T-shirt with her mom on the front.

“To be a role model to you Ruby is what keeps me going,” said Stewart with her daughter in her arms. “Today you get to see your mommy win MVP.”

With Stewart and Thomas separated by seven points, this marks the second-smallest margin between the first- and second-place finishers in the history of the award. The closest finish was a two-point difference between Sheryl Swoopes and Lauren Jackson in 2005.

The 13 points separating Stewart and Wilson represent the smallest margin between first- and third-place vote-getters for MVP in WNBA history, surpassing the 45-point difference in 2013 between Candace Parker and Elena Delle Donne.

“It hurt like hell, it really did,” Wilson said of not being named MVP. “But it’s all part of the game."

All the WNBA awards are voted on by a 60-person national media panel and had them vote for their top five choices for the MVP award. Players were awarded 10 points for a first-place vote, seven points for a second-place vote, five points for a third-place vote, three points for a fourth-place vote and one point for a fifth-place vote.

The Liberty forward was impressed with the way the other two top candidates played this season.

“The competitive camaraderie that we have with one and another, but also the way we’re continuing to show excellence in different ways and be the conversation, that’s the way the league needs to go,” Stewart said. “Have people watching different players and making sure they see greatness on all different levels.”

The 29-year-old Stewart made the decision to move closer to home and come to New York as a free agent this past offseason. The move has paid immediate dividends for her and the Liberty. The AP Player of the Year helped the team finish the regular season with the second best record and was the WNBA's second leading scorer, averaging a career-best 23 points a game. She scored over 40 points four times this season, including 45 in her home debut.

Now she has the Liberty back in the semifinals of the playoffs for the first time since 2015, The Liberty evened the series at 1-1 with a win Tuesday night. She's the first New York player ever to win the league's top honor.

Wilson, who edged Stewart 478-446 last season in the MVP balloting, had another stellar season, averaging a career-best 22.8 points and 9.5 rebounds in leading the Aces to a record 34 wins. She had 29 games of 20 points or better this season. She's upped her game in the playoffs as Las Vegas looks to become the first repeat champion since Los Angeles did it back-to-back in 2001-02.

The Aces first have to get by the Dallas Wings in the semifinals.

“It hurts across the board,” Wilson said about her third-place finish in voting, "but at the end of the day, I'm not going to harp on it very long because we have a competitive team to play against in Dallas, and that's my main focus. (Coach) Becky (Hammon) called me, and I was like, ‘Give me 24 hours and I’m here.'”

Thomas was the first player in league history to record at least 600 points, 400 rebounds and 300 assists in a single season. She also set a league high with 27 double-doubles — including six triple-doubles — and set a league record with 316 assists — 7.9 per game — despite playing forward.

Stewart became the eighth player to win the award more than once and the second to win it with two different teams, joining Delle Donne.