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Ridiculously efficient shooting inside arc for Aces dooms Sun

A’ja Wilson, Chelsea Gray and Kelsey Plum combined to shoot 79.3 percent inside the arc and the Connecticut Sun did not have the offensive firepower to match them.

2022 WNBA Finals - Game Two
Courtney Williams (with ball)
Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Once your opponent is up 18 with 8:15 to play, you know it’s pretty unlikely that you’re going to come back.

That was the case for the Connecticut Sun against the Las Vegas Aces in Game 2 of the 2022 WNBA Finals Tuesday night at Michelob ULTRA Arena in Las Vegas. Aces MVP A’ja Wilson missed two free throws 27 seconds later, but Sun fans did not get a free slice of pizza for that and their team did not come back, losing 85-71 to go down 2-0 in the best-of-five series with Game 3 scheduled for Thursday at home in Uncasville, Conn.

“We are taking it one game at a time,” Jonquel Jones said after her 16 points, 11 rebounds and three assists. “That’s all we can do. We are going to go back home ... We are going to have our fans behind us, who have been with us all season, and we are going to use that to propel us to a win.”

For Vegas, Wilson had 26 points and 10 rebounds, while Chelsea Gray had 21 points, eight assists and three steals and Kelsey Plum had 20 points and seven assists. That trio was a combined 3-of-13 (23.1 percent) from beyond the arc but 23-of-29 (79.3 percent) from inside it en route to helping their team outscore Connecticut 46-28 in the paint. In Game 1, the Sun won points in the paint 40-20.

“I thought they made a concerted effort to get the ball in the paint.” said Connecticut head coach Curt Miller. “Their schemes to get people didn’t hurt us as much as just tremendous one-on-one play that got into the paint all night, and they shot 71 percent inside the arc for the game.

“You know, they flipped points in the paint and just dominated that area, and it was mostly off the bounce. There were some slips and other things but it was mostly off the bounce and a lot of times, not every time, but a lot of times it was just one-on-one, and Kelsey led the charge there just was relentless in the paint.”

The game began with Alyssa Thomas getting the tip from J. Jones and walking in for an easy, uncontested layup. Wilson, Gray or Kiah Stokes may have been able to contest it if they hadn’t all hesitated, not knowing which side Connecticut was supposed the be shooting on. They thought Thomas might have been about to score two for the Aces. They were wrong, but not rattled by their mistake. Wilson calmly nailed a mid-range shot on the other end 17 seconds later and the Aces played loose the rest of the way en route to 18 more points than they scored in Game 1.

Vegas’ largest lead of the first came at the end of it, 23-15. It went on to lead 27-15 before the Sun cut it to 29-23. The Aces bumped up the lead again: 36-23 and 41-28, only to see Connecticut again battle back and cut it to 49-46.

With 6:03 remaining in the third and Vegas up 53-46, Gray left the game with an ankle tweak, but she would return and the Aces actually increased their lead by three in her absence. They led by at least eight the rest of the way and a 14-4 run from 2:48 in the third to 8:15 in the fourth resulted in the 18-point lead already mentioned. They led by as much as 20 in the final frame with the first lead of that margin coming on a ridiculous three from Gray as she was fouled and knocked to the floor.

Gray is shooting 60.5 percent from the field and 52 percent from distance in the playoffs.

“There are a ton of really talented players in this league that make open shots ... Chelsea Gray makes contested shots,” Miller said. “She makes incredibly difficult contested shots. It’s a skill that she can be guarded and closed out on and hand in her face and has the — you know, separating her from a lot of people in this league that she can make those kind of shots.

“Again, tonight, of her nine baskets, we got a hand up. We got into her space as well as we could, and still a high percentage of those nine baskets that went in tonight were really well contested. Other players that you play against, you know, would not make nine shots like that. It’s just really separating her right now.”

When asked about Gray’s unguardableness, Courtney Williams said, “I don’t got no thoughts. We are going to rock out. We got a Game 3, we going to get to it.”

Williams (five assists) led the Sun in scoring with 18 points on 9-of-17 shooting from the field. She had five points on 2-of-9 shooting in Game 1. Thomas (four assists, two steals) and Brionna Jones (seven rebounds, three assists, three steals) joined Williams and J. Jones in double figures with 13 and 12 points, respectively. The Sun just didn’t have the offensive firepower that the Aces had. Scoring and running good offense just seemed so much more difficult for them than it did for Vegas.

Connecticut shot 3-of-14 (21.4 percent) from three and 14-of-21 (66.7 percent) from the free throw line. And yes, the Aces fans did get free pizza.

The Sun’s only former WNBA champion, DeWanna Bonner, has been a huge disappointment in these Finals. She shot 1-of-9 from the field in both games and scored three and two points, respectively. She averaged 13.5 points in the regular season and 13.9 through the first two rounds of the playoffs. It was Bonner who called a players-only meeting after Game 3 of the Sun’s semifinal series against the Chicago Sky, saving the team’s season. She won the 2009 and 2014 Finals with the Phoenix Mercury, averaging 7.4 and 11 points per game in those series, respectively. She was a 22-year-old rookie in the 2009 one. Yet, here she is as an All-Star vet, unable to step up.

Bonner has one more shot to get going and then her team will of course need to win Games 4 and 5 as well.

“You can’t think big picture,” Miller said. “That becomes overwhelming and daunting and feels, at times, bigger. It’s too big.

“So you’ve got to drill it down and we’ll get back to work with our preparation for Game 3, and all we talk about is Game 3, and in particular, all we are going to talk about is the first quarter, and that’s our approach. I think if you start thinking we have to win three in a row, we have to do those kind of things, it becomes big. So we are going to talk about Game 3 and Game 3 only and be ready for that first quarter.”