The rigors of this compressed WNBA season already have caught up to the Connecticut Sun.
On Sunday, the Sun enjoyed a breezy 92-70 win at the Indiana Fever that, unfortunately, was marred by an injury to Jasmine Thomas. The injury turned out to be serious, a season-ending ACL injury to the player who head coach Curt Miller correctly described as “the epitome of an iron woman.” In 12 WNBA seasons, J. Thomas had only missed seven games.
Reading this still doesn’t even feel like it’s me we’re talking about. Still processing that this is my reality. Appreciate the overwhelming support, kind words & well wishes. If I don’t reply individually, I see it, I feel it. Thank you. Be back soon ❤️ https://t.co/NsA0BPzOmK— Jasmine Thomas (@jaszthomas) May 24, 2022
The loss of J. Thomas means the Sun sported their full starting lineup and squad for just two games. Now, for the third-straight season, Connecticut must strive to contend for a title without one of its core players.
In addition to J. Thomas’ ominous injury, the Sun encountered travel troubles, not departing Indy until the early hours of Monday morning. The delay resulted in a cancelled practice on Monday, preventing the Sun from diving into the adjustments needed to compensate for J. Thomas’ absence.
Connecticut Sun 77, Dallas Wings 85: Subpar second half sinks Sun
During the first half of Tuesday’s home contest against the Dallas Wings, the Sun seemed to be surviving ably, taking a 12-point lead into the halftime break behind their revamped guard rotation. Elevated to the starting lineup, Natisha Hiedeman had eight points, canning two of her four 3-point attempts. Courtney Williams added six points.
The first-half performance of the pair demonstrated how Connecticut can succeed without J. Thomas. For all she brings to the court, her scoring aggression often wanes. J. Thomas was averaging 6.6 points per game on a career-low field goal percentage of 26.7 percent. She was draining 38.5 percent of her 3s, although she was taking only 2.6 triples per game. A Hiedeman-Williams backcourt is potentially more potent, with Hiedeman’s readiness to fire away from behind arc combining with Williams midrange pull-up proficiency. WNBA newbie Yvonne Anderson, now expected to be part of the regular rotation, also scored five points and tossed three assists in the first half.
However, the second half highlighted how the Sun will miss J. Thomas. Although a subpar offensive performance can be attributed to the toll of post-Indy travel troubles, Connecticut also could have used J. Thomas’ offensive leadership and defensive physicality. With Hiedeman failing to get up a sufficient number of shots as Williams’ stroke alluded her, the pair’s limitations became more pressing. Neither are natural point guards, thus resulting in Miller deploying Alyssa Thomas as the primary offensive organizer in the fourth quarter. Both Hiedeman and Williams also are undersized, a problem amplified when facing a stronger, more forceful Dallas backcourt. As repeatedly emphasized by the NESN broadcast, Miller had expressed concerned about how the Sun would handle the bold and bruising Marina Mabrey. In the second half, his worst fears were realized, as she scored 17 of her game-high 20 points.
Along with Mabrey, an active fourth quarter from Isabelle Harrison, when she had nine points and six rebounds, helped the Wings pull away for the 85-77 victory.
Connecticut Sun 99, Dallas Wings 68: Hiedeman, Bonner spark scoring explosion
Before Thursday’s rematch with Dallas, Connecticut regrouped and recharged, overcoming their recent adversity to earn the 99-68 blowout victory.
A high-upside performance from Hiedeman spurred the Sun’s offensive explosion. She swished 4-of-7 3-point attempts on her way to a season-high 17 points. She also tallied six assists and three steals. Williams likewise offered all-round contributions, with eight points, six rebounds and five assists. 18 points from DeWanna Bonner, much improved from her four-point effort on Tuesday night, also helped the Sun register a season-high 99 points.
One name thus far not noted is that of Jonquel Jones. The reigning MVP was solid in both games against Dallas, with an 11-point and 12-rebound double-double on Tuesday followed by 12 points and five points on Thursday. However, considering Dallas employs a rather undersized, albeit very athletic, front court, it is not out of line to expect more of J. Jones. The Bahamian Beast should feast against such a line up. On Thursday, the Sun clearly made a more concerted effort to get the ball to her, especially as they gained and maintained separation from the Wings in the second and third quarters.
For the Sun to survive the difficult road trip on the horizon — with a pair of games in Vegas before contests in Phoenix and Seattle over a five-day period — J. Jones needs to be in beast mode. This season, she is averaging five fewer points per game compared to last season, with 14.4 versus 19.9. She also is playing almost six fewer minutes per game, with her 25.4 minutes per game less than the average minutes of A. Thomas, Bonner and Brionna Jones, indicating a not unwise effort to conserve her energies. Yet, it is hard to imagine the Sun completing a successful road trip without a fully unleashed J. Jones, one who puts pressure on opposing defense by proactively asserting herself on the offensive end.
Before Connecticut heads west, they will welcome the Washington Mystics to Mohegan Sun Arena on Saturday night at 7 p.m. ET (NBA TV) in a Commissioner’s Cup matchup. Seeing J. Jones teach rookie Shakira Austin a thing or two about the WNBA by banging inside and burying shots from deep would be an encouraging way to close out this home stand and prepare for the western trek ahead.