The Connecticut Sun are not done.
The headline is a historic triple-double of 16 points, 15 rebounds and 11 assists from Alyssa Thomas. It not only is the first triple-double registered in the WNBA Finals (a contention newly-minted Hall-of-Famer Swin Cash playfully disputed), but also marks Thomas’ record third triple-double of the 2022 season. “The Engine” embodied the physicality and resilience referenced by Aces head coach Becky Hammon in her post-game press conference.
“If you could encapsulate Connecticut, it’s physical and very resilient. They have kind of a battle-type mentality, and we didn’t match that tonight, in any category. They just kicked our ass in every way possible,” Hammon said. She also complimented Thomas, suggesting, “She’s a beast. I went to a UFC fight the other night; I would not want to get in the cage with her. She is just tough. Tough, tough, tough. And then a playmaker.”
In addition to Thomas’ historic box score, the Sun secured a number of other history-making marks, including:
- a 2022 postseason-leading 34 first-quarter points
- the most postseason points scored (105) in Sun franchise history
- the third-largest margin of victory (29) in the WNBA Finals
- the second-most assists (32) in the WNBA Finals
Somewhat surprisingly, these are offensive marks.
During Connecticut’s semifinals series against the Chicago Sky, head coach Curt Miller trumpeted his team’s desire to make things “messy,” essentially asserting that mucking things was the Sun’s surest path to success.
Yet, the Sun’s playoff journey indicates otherwise. In four of the six playoff wins, the Sun have registered an offensive rating of more than 100. The other two wins, Games 1 and 5 against the Sky, were the type of affairs Miller described. So far in the Finals, the Sun had succeeded in slowing the Aces’ high-octane offense, especially in Game 1. But Connecticut departed Vegas in an 0-2 hole.
Back in Uncasville, the Sun’s offense was unlocked. In particular, DeWanna Bonner rediscovered her offensive game.
The Sun organization has insisted upon the importance of Bonner, revealing that, after a five-game WNBA Finals loss to the Washington Mystics in 2019, Connecticut’s key stakeholders identified Bonner, then an impending free agent, as the team’s missing piece. Unfortunately, through two Finals games, Bonner remained missing, making only two field goals and scoring only five points.
Thursday night, Bonner arrived, announcing her presence by not settling for contested jumpers but by getting buckets by driving and cutting to the basket. She bettered her Finals production thus far in the first quarter, scoring seven of her eventual 18 points. Beyond Bonner, the Sun did not allow some hot jump shooting to tempt them to abandon production in the paint, as a Finals-record 64 of their points would come inside.
This is something we need to see more of from DeWanna Bonner, who’s struggled offensively of late. Jackie Young top-locks, so Bonner cuts and gets an easy 2 at the rim. The Sun should look to keep her moving. pic.twitter.com/OmjpPv2BJe— Positive Residual (@presidual) September 16, 2022
Bonner’s performance also exemplifies how, for as much as the Sun won due to an offensive explosion, defense was not irrelevant to the victory. Miller adjusted the defensive matchups, tasking Bonner — with her long arms that extend from her 6’4 frame — with the Chelsea Gray assignment. While Gray would shake Bonner just enough to drain a tough midrange bucket early in the contest, she would not score on Bonner again. But Bonner was not alone. The Sun’s defense was sharp, maintaining tight rotations and strong communication in several configurations.
This is a good example of how the Sun are defending Chelsea Gray tonight. They’re blitzing with their bigs, forcing the ball out of her hands, then recovering quickly. pic.twitter.com/DWeN7fvgA2— Positive Residual (@presidual) September 16, 2022
Despite the Sun’s scoring outburst and connected defense, those assembled in Mohegan Sun Arena could never quite comfortably celebrate.
As halftime approached, Gray, with Bonner on the bench, drilled three-straight deep and difficult 3-pointers. Another 3 from Jackie Young and a running, buzzer-beating triple from Kelsey Plum cut a margin that had been 23 points to 11 at 53-42.
Although the Sun scored the first five points of the third quarter, the Aces continued to threaten, trimming the margin to as few as six points late in the period. But Connecticut ultimately remained in control, with much credit going to Jonquel Jones.
Unlike Bonner, Jones had not been nearly absent from the series. Nevertheless, she had yet to have an impact on the proceedings in the way expected of the 2021 WNBA MVP. That changed in the third period, as she scored 11 of her team-high 20 points in a manner that exuded the dominance of which she is capable.
The fourth quarter then began with the Sun forcing the Aces into three-straight turnovers, which Connecticut converted into eight points. When Plum and Young then responded with a pair of tough shots, Natisha Hiedeman swished what she deemed the dagger 3-pointer, pulling out the “night-night” celebration that she (not some NBA player) pioneered. It was her third triple of the night, a stat that bodes well for the Sun this season. She finished with 14 points and a career-high nine assists.
Sunday afternoon at 4 p.m. ET (ESPN), Connecticut must do it all again, marshaling the extra oomph they exhibited Thursday in Game 4 to send the series back to Vegas for Game 5. Otherwise, the many milestones achieved in Game 3 will be rendered mere forgotten footnotes in WNBA Finals history.