After stealing Game 1 in Chicago, the Connecticut Sun failed to take a commanding lead in their semifinals series against the Sky, falling down by as many as 20 points before dropping Game 2 85-77 and knotting the series at one game a piece.
The loss somewhat resembles Game 2 of the Sun’s first-round series against the Dallas Wings, another game in which a late surge by the Sun resulted in a final score that made the contest seem closer than it was.
In both Game 2s, the Sun missed too many easy buckets in the early going. Not seeing the ball fall through the basket seemed to compound things, putting more pressure on every subsequent shot attempt. On Wednesday night, Connecticut finished the first quarter shooting 6-of-19 (31.6 percent) from the field.
However, offense ultimately was not the most pressing issue for the Sun; success in this series comes down defense. In the first quarter, Chicago shot 60 percent from the floor and 50 percent from 3 to fuel 24 points scored, the highest-scoring quarter of the game and series for the Sky. The points put up by Chicago indicate that Connecticut did not bring the urgency, intensity and aggression exhibited from tip to buzzer in Game 1.
After the game, head coach Curt Miller lamented that the Sun allowed the Sky to establish the terms of engagement, saying, “[W]e need it messy...we did not make it messy enough...we feel good about where we’re at, just disappointed that we couldn’t make it a little messier.”
Connecticut’s lack of requisite messiness derived from a decrease in physicality. The degree of physicality the Sun displayed in Game 1 popped, as Connecticut consistently asserted its will. The Sun’s defensive activity in Game 1 forced the Sky to rely on jumpers to generate offense; in contrast, Connecticut permitted Chicago to rack up points in the paint in Game 2. The Sun outscored the Sky in the paint by 12 points in Game 1 compared to just two points in Game 2. In his preview of Game 2, Swish Appeal’s Eric Nemchock presciently noted that points in the paint could be a key barometer.
He also predicted “how the game is officiated” could be determinative. Despite the physicality Connecticut brought to Game 1, a record lack of fouls were called. After 21 total fouls in Game 1, with only seven called on the Sun, there were 32 total fouls in Game 2, with 17 called on the Sun. Six of these fouls were committed in the second quarter, suggesting that when the Sun sought to ramp things up after the first quarter, Game 2’s officiating crew were not inclined to condone Connecticut’s physicality.
The reduced physicality and messiness from Connecticut contributed to a much faster paced game, another key to the contest identified by Nemchock. Pace per 40 minutes jumped from 76.50 in Game 1 to 82.50 in Game 2.
For the regular season, the Sun’s average pace of play was 80.37, which ranked in the middle of the pack among the league’s 12 teams. Thus, the Sun do not necessarily need to drag a game into the mud to earn a victory. In regular-season games that featured a pace of play of 82.50 or greater, the Sun finished 9-3. Yet, two of those three losses came to Sky. That data point, in combination with Miller’s emphasis on messiness, suggests the Sun believe that, to beat the Sky in three out of five games, they need to make things grimy.
Despite allowing Chicago to dictate Game 2, Connecticut ultimately should not return to Uncasville disappointed. The Game 1 win gave the Sun homecourt advantage for the series and, if they protect home court on Sunday, puts them in position to close out the series at Mohegan Sun next Tuesday.
Likewise, Game 2 did include some encouraging developments, namely the offensive involvement and aggressiveness of Jonquel Jones. The still-reigning MVP scored a game-high 23 points on 17 shots. Unfortunately, Connecticut did not get enough contributions from the rest of the roster.
To get two more wins, the Sun likely need solid scoring nights from either DeWanna Bonner and Courtney Williams. After fighting her way to 15 points in Game 1, Bonner managed only a pair of points in Game 2, splitting her four free throws as she missed all six of her shots from the field. The playoffs remained unkind for Williams’ jump shot. Shooting less than 30 percent from the field across the Sun’s five playoff games, she went 3-for-10 for six points on Wednesday night. Williams rediscovering the midrange magic that helped to fuel the Sun’s run to the Finals in 2019 would go a long way in helping secure a return trip in 2022.