On Thursday night, the Connecticut Sun stunned the women’s hoops world, pulling off an 18-0 late fourth-quarter run in Game 5 of the semifinals series against the defending-champion Chicago Sky to punch their ticket to the WNBA Finals for the fourth time in franchise history.
Less than one week ago, it appeared that the Connecticut Sun as we knew them were done, as they turned in a dispiriting, seemingly tension-filled Game 3 performance on their home court. To advance to the Finals, the Sun would have to win two-straight games against the Sky, the team that not only eliminated them last postseason but also had defeated them in six-straight contests prior to Game 1 of this series.
The vibes and trends were not in the Sun’s favor. According to The Athletic’s Shannon Ryan, there were “internal team issues” that Connecticut had to address after Game 3.
A frank, heart-to-heart meeting had the intended effect. In the do-or-die Game 5 in Chicago, it was not Connecticut that collapsed. The Sun overcame an eight-point third quarter and 11-point fourth-quarter deficit, showing a sense of resilience and revitalized spirit as they dug deep to steal the victory and send themselves back to the Finals.
So, how did it happen?
The turning point occurred at the 3:46 mark of the fourth quarter when Kahleah Copper fouled DeWanna Bonner as she converted a bucket under the basket. A spat between the two immediately emerged, resulting in each receiving eventually-rescinded technical fouls. Bonner swished the free throw, narrowing the Sky’s lead to six points.
It is impossible to deny that the dust-up fueled Connecticut. From there, the Sky would not score again, totaling a WNBA playoff record-low five fourth-quarter points. The Sun responded by reeling off 15 more points (part of a historic 18-0 run) to earn the nine-point win, 72-63.
With a trip to the WNBA Finals on the line, the Chicago Sky had a 97% chance to win with less than 4 minutes remaining. They didn't score a single bucket the rest of the game, while the Sun went on a 18-0 run to win. pic.twitter.com/sKHenZWDLh— SB Nation (@SBNation) September 9, 2022
After the game, Bonner admitted the testy exchange lit a fire for the Sun, recounting, “I think that was our moment to settle down a little bit. We got fired up.... We looked up when that happened, and it was like, ‘There is a lot of time left.’ That’s all the fire we needed.”
Nonetheless, that the Sun won is still shocking.
Not only did the Sun only manage to score eight points in the third quarter, but they also coughed up the ball 23 times, a mark that ties the most turnovers that they surrendered this season. The Sky were unable to efficiently cash in on the Sun’s mishaps, as Chicago scored only six more points off turnovers than Connecticut, despite Connecticut turning it over 10 more times.
The Sun, however, made up for the lack of ball security by dominating the glass, outrebounding the Sky 43-28. The Sun also got to the line 16 times, sinking all 16 free throws while the Sky made 7-of-12 free throws. Additionally, Connecticut tallied more assists than Chicago, the team, famous for their beautiful offensive flow, that led the league in assists per game during the regular season. This stat suggests that the Sun not only mucked things up for the Sky with their defensive determination but also exhibited trust in each other on the offensive end.
This sense of offensive trust was exemplified by DeWanna Bonner and Courtney Williams, two players who have had the tendency to fire up ill-advised shots when Connecticut’s offense stalls out. Both instead established a better balance, registering five assists a piece. Bonner matched Jonquel Jones’ team-high 15 points, while Williams added 12 efficient points.
After a number of analysts and observers called for Curt Miller to replace Williams, struggling mightily with her shot, with DiJonai Carrington in the starting lineup, Williams not only found her stroke but also began to play in a way that resembled her 2019 playoff form. Natisha Hiedeman also stepped up with 14 points, resulting in Connecticut’s starting backcourt combining to unexpectedly outplay that of Chicago in the series-deciding game.
Hiedeman’s play embodied the confidence she expressed after the game, when she said of her team, “We’re not folding no more. As y’all saw [after] the third quarter, we picked it right back up and won the game, and now we’re going to the championship. Job not done yet.”
To finish the job, the Sun again must defy the doubters and best the Las Vegas Aces in the five-game WNBA Finals without homecourt advantage and as the lower seed. On top of that, Connecticut will be meeting the newly-minted two-time MVP in A’ja Wilson and the Point Gawd in Chelsea Gray, who has been on an absolutely unprecedented shooting bender this postseason. During the regular season, the Sun did claim a win in Vegas, although the Aces also won in Uncasville to ultimately take the season series, 2-1.
Buckle up! Connecticut’s continued quest for the franchise’s first championship continues Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m. ET.