UNCASVILLE, Conn. – Their destiny might have been out of their hands, but the Connecticut Sun were not done fighting for a spot in the 2014 WNBA playoffs yet.
Kelsey Griffin played the hero again down the stretch Sunday afternoon, hitting a game-tying shot at the end of the fourth quarter before propelling Connecticut to an 89-81 victory over the Washington Mystics in double overtime.
Connecticut’s win was desperately needed after a loss Friday night in New York. The Sun still had a chance of making the playoffs, but their playoff hopes ended after the Chicago Sky defeated the Atlanta Dream today.
Chicago's 80-69 win over Atlanta eliminates the @ConnecticutSun from playoff contention. Off to the 2015 Draft Lottery they go— John Altavilla (@jaltavilla) August 11, 2014
The Sun were able to open the game up in the second half, finally breaking free of the Mystics after a tough first half to go up by as many as 13 in the fourth quarter. However, Washington started to fight back late as Connecticut, once again, was unable to protect a lead.
Down by two, Griffin corralled a missed shot by Kelsey Bone and scored as time expired to send the game to overtime.
In the second overtime, Griffin sealed the win for the Sun with a 3-pointer that extended Connecticut’s lead to four and swung momentum entirely in the favor of the home team.
"Kelsey Griffin, MVP of the game if you ask me, just in terms of her defensive energy, deflections picking up the charge, the last steal she had on (Washington guard Bria) Hartley, knocking down the three, they were huge," Sun coach Anne Donovan said. "So we had some good energy off the bench, which we didn’t get in New York. We really struggled in New York, so it was nice to see that aspect pick up tonight."
At the end of the second overtime, with Washington still breathing down Connecticut’s neck, the Sun were forced to see out the game without Chiney Ogwumike or Katie Douglas. Ogwumike did not play at all in the final period and Douglas came out with 2:34 remaining before running down the tunnel to the Sun’s locker room with pain in her lower back.
Luckily for Connecticut, Griffin was on top of her game, filling the void left by Ogwumike, who despite nine points and nine rebounds looked out of sync all game. Griffin made a steal on an errant pass by Hartley with 23 seconds to go to end the Mystics’ futile comeback hopes.
The 50-minute fight was another opportunity for Connecticut’s inexperienced squad to get tested by a veteran team, and they were up to the challenge. As the season gets older, Alyssa Thomas and Alex Bentley continue to look more confident on the floor, especially against experienced players like they faced Sunday.
"You’ve got (Monique) Currie going up at (Thomas)," Donovan said. "You’ve got (Ivory) Latta going at (Bentley). Once again, it’s our youth playing against experienced teams right now that are fighting for position in the playoffs. I like the way we responded. We did some good things down the stretch. Kelly Faris, super job off the bench defensively. She had some good stops."
The Sun will host the Mystics again on Friday before closing the season at home against Atlanta on Sunday. By the time they take the floor again, Connecticut will be out of playoff contention, but there is still something to play for.
Donovan has been talked about her team to play with pride, to play professionally down the stretch. That is not something she needs to work with her team on, however, as they will close out the season – playoffs or not – looking for wins.
"Playing hard is not our issue," Donovan said. "They’re competitive. We hadn’t beaten Washington yet this season, so it was important to us – every game is important to us. Last time we played at Washington, great three quarters and they controlled it in the fourth quarter. Their veterans, at that point, kind of imposed their will on us. Tonight we didn’t allow that to be the difference in the game.
"At this point in our season, that’s what we’re looking for. We’ve got to be making some adjustments, some improvements. And tonight it was in a close game that we executed down the stretch and got the win."