Despite owning the league’s best net rating for the regular season, compiled via the second-ranked offense and second-ranked defense, most prognosticators considered the Connecticut Sun outside the championship conversation, and even a first-round upset candidate, on the eve of the 2022 WNBA playoffs.
This skepticism was not unwarranted. Not only did the Sun infamously flame out of the 2021 playoffs, but they also lost the regular-season series to their first-round opponent, the Dallas Wings.
However, in Game 1 of the best-of-three first-round series against the Wings, the Sun offered a reminder of their upside, resoundingly defeating Dallas 93-68. It was a manifestation of the sentiment Alyssa Thomas expressed in her recent article for The Players’ Tribune, where she proclaimed, “We’re hungry. And we’re ready.”
The first quarter closed with Connecticut clinging to a two-point lead, 22-19, after a potentially momentum-shifting halfcourt heave from Satou Sabally found the bottom of the net and beat the quarter buzzer.
Yet, from there, Connecticut would cruise to the comfortable victory, demonstrating the level of focus, intention and intensity requisite of a title contender.
This intention was evident in the early effort to establish Jonquel Jones on offense, as she scored seven of her game-high 19 points in the first period. She also would get to the line for a game-high eight free-throw attempts (sinking seven of them), an indication of the degree of aggression desired from Jones on an every game basis.
On the other end of the floor, Jones neutralized Teaira McCowan, who recently earned WNBA Player of the Month honors for August after becoming the interior fulcrum of the revitalized Wings offense. McCowan managed only seven points on six shots on Thursday night.
Connecticut also contained Marina Mabrey, who, in the absence of Arike Ogunbowale, had emerged as the perimeter engine of the Dallas offense. In early foul trouble, Mabrey scored only 11 points on 5-of-13 shooting.
Unsurprisingly, Thomas heavily was involved in extinguishing the Wings’ offensive effectiveness. She set the tone with her all-round relentlessness. She also was on “triple-double watch,” totaling 15 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists.
The Sun also shined beyond their two main stars.
DeWanna Bonner drained two deep threes in the first half, spurring her to 12 total points. Courtney Williams not only had her midranger working, tallying 10 points, but she also tossed six assists. Off the bench, DiJonai Carrington scored in double figures with 13 points. Natisha Hiedeman and Brionna Jones each added eight points.
In short, Connecticut got offensive contributions from up and down the lineup, thereby avoiding the threat of the late-game offensive ineptitude that sometimes strikes.
Now, it is imperative that the Sun not succumb to a subpar performance on Sunday afternoon (12 p.m. ET, ABC), maintaining a similar level of sharpness on both ends of the floor. Sweeping the the Wings in two games prevents the prospect of facing a win-or-go-home Game 3 in Dallas. It also would give the Sun the rest advantage for their second round matchup, as their opponent — the winner of the No. 2 vs. No. 7 series between the Chicago Sky and New York Liberty — will be coming off a three-game series with extra travel.