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Connecticut Sun spoil Sabally’s return, defeat Dallas Wings in playoff series opener

The Dallas Wings got some much-needed reinforcements prior to Game 1 of their playoff series opener against the Connecticut Sun, but it didn’t stop the higher-seeded Sun from rolling to victory. Dallas will need a significantly better all-around effort in Game 2 if it’s to stay alive in the postseason.

WNBA: AUG 18 Playoffs First Round Dallas Wings at Connecticut Sun
Satou Sabally made her long-awaited return for Dallas, but it wasn’t nearly enough for the Wings to upset Connecticut in their postseason opener.
Photo by M. Anthony Nesmith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Dallas Wings got good news prior to Game 1 of their opening-round playoff series against the Connecticut Sun when forwards Satou Sabally and Isabelle Harrison were cleared to return to the team’s lineup. Harrison had missed the Wings’ regular-season finale against Los Angeles with a shoulder injury, while Sabally hadn’t played since mid-June due to an injured ankle.

The good news ended there. Dallas was blown out by Connecticut 93-68, the game falling out of reach for the Wings as early as in the third quarter as a relentless Sun team controlled nearly every area of the game. Connecticut finished the day with five players in double-figure scoring, led by reigning MVP Jonquel Jones, who had 19 in 25 minutes of play, and shot 52.1 percent from the field as a team.

To say that the result was disappointing for Dallas would be an understatement, especially after the Wings went 5-2 in August and earned both Player of the Month (Teaira McCowan) and Coach of the Month (Vickie Johnson) awards. The Wings’ leading scorer, Arike Ogunbowale, had already been ruled out for the first round of the playoffs due to an abdominal injury, but the way they finished the regular season had instilled confidence that they’d be able to compete without her.

2022 WNBA Playoffs - Dallas Wings v Connecticut Sun
The Wings had no answer for Connecticut’s Alyssa Thomas in Game 1 of the series.
Photo by Chris Marion/NBAE via Getty Images

That bubble of optimism was quickly popped. The Wings’ offense was largely stifled by an active and physical Connecticut defense, finishing the day shooting a middling 41.3 percent from the field and 25 percent (5-of-20) on 3-pointers, often unable to get and finish quality looks at the basket without Ogunbowale’s shot-creating ability. Dallas’ free throw shooting, while far from the lone culprit, wasn’t impressive either; the Wings made just 11 of the 19 free throws they attempted.

What were most indicative of how the game went for the Wings, though, were their 15 turnovers. 10 of them came on Connecticut steals, and the Sun outscored the Wings 16-2 on fast break points. Dallas had trouble keeping opponents out of transition during the regular season (16 percent frequency; second-highest in the WNBA according to Synergy Sports) and couldn’t match Alyssa Thomas (15 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists) and the Sun on the break in their playoff opener.

Can Dallas bounce back?

The Wings now find themselves with their backs against the wall: one game from elimination in a best-of-three series, needing a win in a hostile environment to stay alive.

Better Wings offense will clearly be needed for that, though the lopsided nature of the series opener suggests there’s more Dallas must clean up than just its shooting. In general, the Wings were out-muscled by Connecticut in Game 1; the usually efficient McCowan was held to seven points on 2-of-6 shooting from the field and was soundly outplayed by Jones and the rest of the Sun frontcourt on the other end of the floor. It’s hard to see the Wings beating the Sun without McCowan being a major factor, so establishing her early and often is likely atop Johnson’s to-do list.

Dallas will also need more from its backcourt. Allisha Gray (17 points and five rebounds) and Tyasha Harris (13 points and five rebounds) played well in the first game of the series, but Marina Mabrey (11 points, 5-of-13 shooting) struggled to find her shot against a Connecticut defense that was loaded up to stop her. While scoring opportunities in this series may not come as easily for Mabrey as for other Wings guards, they’ll nevertheless need to find a way to get her better shots, given how much of the team’s offensive burden (27.2 percent usage rate in August) is on her shoulders.