Uncasville, CT — One punch is all it takes for playoff dreams to implode.
With just over a minute left in Saturday’s game, Glory Johnson possibly took the team’s fate into her own hands and clocked Atlanta guard Matee Ajavon. That split second decision led to her suspension tonight when the rankings come down to every single win.
“That was gritty,” Connecticut Head Coach Curt Miller recalled. “I didn’t know what to expect tonight with Dallas really motivated after the suspension of Glory (Johnson).”
Being tied with Seattle for a shot at an eighth place playoff slot, Dallas needs to nail each performance. The Storm holds tiebreaking power while leading this season’s series by one game. Not forgetting, Chicago and Atlanta have not been eliminated from playoffs and could sneak into the post season.
Tonight, the Wings flew their starting five into Mohegan Sun Arena without their secret weapon on the attack. Dallas had the numbers, with all starters scoring in the double digits, Skylar Diggins-Smith leading with 19.
“It shows that you can battle with teams in the league that are up in the standings above you and we will continue to fight and crawl and get there,” explained Dallas Head Coach Fred Williams.
After defeating Dallas by a 30-point margin just recently on Aug. 12, Connecticut faced a different team tonight. Not just a lineup without its star, but one that came to compete as a team.
“I feel like we fought hard. I thought there were a few things that we could have done better,” said Dallas center Theresa Plaisance. “But at the end of the day, I feel good about us and I think we can build off this and learn from our mistakes.”
Dallas had a strong first period, outscoring Connecticut 28-24. But as they tried to hang on against Alyssa Thomas’ golden performance, they needed their main ingredient in the mix. It wasn’t a matter of not being enough to take down the Sun that’s already clinched a playoff spot, but irregular pieces to the puzzle just wouldn’t fit.
“We were without one of our double-double players tonight and I thought our team played hard, but I’m not overly disappointed,” said Williams. “I thought our effort was there and we were a couple of shots away. We had 123 possessions on the road, what more could you ask for other than trying to get a victory out of it.”
Johnson’s offensive domination is what Dallas needed to push them over the edge.
“Glory is always missed, but when one person is not there someone has to step up and I thought Kayla Thornton had a real aggressive game at both ends of the floor,” said Wings’ forward Karima Christmas-Kelly. “Everybody has to pick each other up when we are missing that piece.”
Simply put, without Johnson on the floor, Dallas couldn’t make up what she brings to the court. Thornton clearly stepped up, however, it is not the same without Johnson. Johnson had 23 points and 13 boards in Saturday’s win over the Dream, and averages 14.7 points a game. She had a career high of 16 rebounds earlier this month against Seattle -- she has been on a tear recently. But tonight, Jonquel Jones had 17 rebounds for the Sun, and Dallas’ rebounding force was not on the court to return the favor.
Connecticut even turned the ball over more, with 16 -- three more than Dallas. But they passed as one and their assists were key, so they locked in on the floor. The Wings were just working with what they had.
One player’s decision from here on out could determine whether the Wings will make the postseason cut. They only have three more shots, and better hope Seattle falls during some of them.
“We are there, we are still in the hunt and I like our fight and our grit,” explained WIlliams. “We are a relentless team and we are just one or two shots away or possessions away we just have to finish those out.”
Next up, the Sun face the Sky on Aug. 25 at 7 pm ET. The Wings meet the Mystics on Aug. 26 at 7 pm ET.