The Las Vegas Aces and Connecticut Sun each got off to a slow start in 2020.
The Aces, who were expected to be title contenders even with stars Liz Cambage and Kelsey Plum out for the season, started 0-1 and then 1-2. The Sun, who were coming off an appearance in the 2019 WNBA Finals, faired even worse with a concerning 0-5 start.
Now, the two teams will face each other in a Game 5 to decide which goes to the WNBA Finals where the Seattle Storm await.
It has been an incredible semifinals series where a different player has starred in each game.
First, it was the Sun’s Jasmine Thomas with a career high in points. Then, it was 2020 MVP A’ja Wilson willing the Aces to victory with heart and effort. Next, Sun forward Alyssa Thomas eclipsed both performances by playing through shoulder pain resulting from a dislocation with seeming unstoppable force. In Game 4, it was Angel McCoughtry, age 34, stepping up to the moment she and Aces coach Bill Laimbeer were waiting for.
Who will be the heroine in Game 5 to power her team to the championship round? And which team will advance? The No. 1 Aces — who finished 18-4 in the regular season and swept the No. 2 Storm? Or the No. 7 Sun — who went 10-12 in the regular season?
The 2014 Chicago Sky (15-19) is the only team in WNBA history that has made the Finals with a losing record.
If there is to be a fifth-consecutive new heroine in Game 5, DeWanna Bonner probably has the best chance of being that player. She was third in the WNBA in scoring average in the regular season, trailing only Arike Ogunbowale and Wilson with 19.7 points per game. She already has had a standout performance in the semifinals, with 23 points and seven assists in a Game 2 loss. Bonner followed that up with double-doubles in Games 3 and 4, but has yet to truly put the team on her back in a victory.
Sixth Woman of the Year Dearica Hamby of the Aces would be in the running to become a fifth heroine but has been ruled out for the rest of the playoffs because of a knee injury.
The bottom line is the Sun have had the upper hand in the series. They came away with a 25-point win in Game 1 and have been competitive in every game since. Las Vegas, meanwhile, had not led by double-digits in the series until the third quarter of Game 4.
Still, the Aces were big favorites before the series began. The loss of Hamby will be tough to overcome but with Wilson’s talent and McCoughtry’s playoff experience Las Vegas should still be considered the favorite to advance to the Finals. Yet, the Sun could shake off the doubters once again and improve to a 15-14 record (playoffs included) and advance to their second-straight Finals.
Connecticut Sun vs. Las Vegas Aces
When: Tuesday, Sept. 29, at 7:30 p.m. ET
Where: IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida
How to watch: ESPN2
Keys to the matchup: Connecticut’s defense. In the two games the Sun won, they held the Aces under 70 points and in the two games they lost they allowed over 80 points. The Sun can’t rely on their offense to get the job done. Alyssa Thomas, named to the 2020 WNBA All-Defensive Team, is such a great defender and she needs to be dominant on that end of the floor to make the difference between two great teams. She and Beatrice Mompremier will likely be the ones covering Wilson and those will be ultra-important matchups. For the Aces, A’ja Wilson has been the one consistent player throughout the series. They need other players to step up like they did in Game 4, but when they won in Game 2 they went straight to Wilson in a key moment, late. Don’t expect the Sun to let Wilson beat them like that again, however.
Sun injury report: Bria Holmes (out for season, knee)
Aces injury report: Dearica Hamby (out for season, knee)