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‘The Engine’ returns

Alyssa Thomas added to her legacy of coming back from devastating injuries on Wednesday night and has the Connecticut Sun looking even more like the championship favorite.

New York Liberty v Connecticut Sun
Alyssa Thomas skies toward the basket during Wednesday night’s Connecticut Sun/New York Liberty game.
Photo by Chris Marion/NBAE via Getty Images

What Alyssa Thomas did in the playoffs last year was nothing short of legendary. Already with a torn labrum in each shoulder, she dislocated her right shoulder in Game 2 of the Connecticut Sun’s semifinal series against the Las Vegas Aces and still played in Game 3, notching 23 points and 12 rebounds to lead the Sun to victory, which put the heavily-favored Aces on the brink of elimination.

Not counting Game 2 of the semis, a contest in which she only played 4:55, Thomas averaged 20.5 points, 9.3 rebounds, 4.7 assists and two steals over the course of six playoff games in 2020. That’s nearly 20/10/5/2 as an average, which is just ridiculous. The return from a dislocated shoulder earned her a spot in sports lore as an all-time tough athlete and the incredible six-game run added to her reputation as a big-time playoff performer. She also averaged 18.4 points, 9.2 rebounds, 7.6 assists and 2.2 steals during the five-game 2019 Finals.

Now Thomas has written another chapter of her legacy, returning early from a torn Achilles on Wednesday night to help her now frontrunner Sun to a franchise-record 13th-straight win. Thomas was thought to be out for the season after suffering the injury nine months ago overseas.

On Wednesday night she gave Sun fans a long-awaited look at the team’s big three of her, Jonquel Jones and DeWanna Bonner, a trio that did not play together in 2020 because J. Jones opted out as a COVID-19 precaution. But really, Connecticut now has a big four with Brionna Jones also being an All-Star this year. The team is 25-6, has already locked up the No. 1 seed for the playoffs and is just now getting one of its superstars back.

Needless to say, there are good vibes coming from Uncasville right now.

“It felt amazing,” Thomas said of returning in a postgame interview with Sun team reporter Robyn Brown. “I’ve been watching this team fight and just compete all season and I’ve just been waiting to get out there with them.”

“You heard our crowd,” Sun head coach Curt Miller said of the moment Thomas checked in. “She has meant so much, been an anchor, right? Truly ‘The Engine.’ We’ve tweaked how we’ve played without her and we tweak when we play with her through the years. You know, we made her such a focal point. And so I think the fans appreciate that’s a kid that plays her guts out every single second she’s on the court. And she is respected and revered because of that in this fan base. You heard the ovation when she went in. We intentionally tried to take her out where she could be recognized when she was out. You saw how emotional her teammates were.”

Thomas recorded six points, three rebounds, one assist and one steal in 16 minutes and 37 seconds. She didn’t have to do more than that as the Sun put up 98 points as a team.

“You saw some of the rust,” Miller said of Thomas’ performance. “It’s still fun to have her back. She’ll get her sea legs underneath her.”

Miller added about the rust that “this is why we’re excited to get a couple game under her belt before the playoffs.”

When asked what she hopes to contribute to a team that has been top-notch without her, Thomas said:

“I mean this team is firing on all engines. I just want to come in and make it that much easier for them.”

On Tuesday, Miller used the word “optimistic” with regards to Thomas’ chance to play on Wednesday. But second-year forward Beatrice Mompremier may have given away the team’s knowledge that were going to play Thomas and later on Tuesday the Sun tweeted a telling image of Thomas.

To no one’s surprise. the Sun announced their intention to bring Thomas off the bench before the game started on Wednesday and she checked in three minutes and 18 seconds into the contest.

When asked how close the Sun feel to a championship, Thomas said:

“We’re right there. We’re sitting right where we want to be. We know that it’s gonna come down to us doing the little things and coming out each and every game and not taking any games for granted. We gotta be on our A game 24/7 and I know we’re ready for this.”