Could anyone beat the Connecticut Sun? That was the question going into last night’s first semi-final game between the Sun and the Chicago Sky. The Sun, winners of their last 14 games, seemed virtually untouchable. Add nine games of rest for the Sun, and on the other side, two intense playoff games and an early morning, commercial cross-country flight for the Sky, and it seemed like the Sun might have an insurmountable advantage.
But the nature of streaks is that they have to end sometime. Led by Courtney Vandersloot and her ridiculous triple-double (12 points, 18 assists, and 10 rebounds), only the second triple-double ever recorded in WNBA playoff history (the first was achieved by Sheryl Swoopes in 2005), Chicago stole a game from the Sun in DOUBLE OVERTIME 101-95.
The game was a thrilling one, an instant classic, with fourteen lead changes and fifteen ties. Courtney Vandersloot’s record-setting performance (her 18 assists broke Sue Bird’s playoff-record 16) set the pace for the game, which was only the fifth game to go into double-overtime in WNBA playoff history.
Brionna Jones, the WNBA’s newly minted Most Improved Player, was clutch for the Sun down the stretch. She scored 22 points, had 10 rebounds, a team-high 4 steals, and two blocked shots. In the fourth quarter, Brionna Jones kept the Sun in the game. With 24.7 seconds left on the clock in regulation, Jones shot, missed, grabbed her own rebound, and put the ball up again and into the basket, putting the Sun up by 2, all with former Defensive Player of the Year Candace Parker, in her face. But the Sun couldn’t hold the lead. On the Sky’s trip back down court, DeWanna Bonner made contact with Kahleah Copper on a missed three-point shot. Copper made two of three foul shots, and the game was headed to overtime.
In the first OT, B. Jones again put the Sun up with time dwindling, 91-90, but once again, the Sun couldn’t close the game out. B. Jones got the ball back for the Sun, poking the ball away from Courtney Vandersloot with seconds left on the clock, but the Sun didn’t get another good look at the basket. The game went to double-overtime, and, with play getting sloppier as fatigue finally set in, the Sky pulled away.
Briann January also added clutch points for the Sun in the fourth quarter and in both of the overtimes, and played most of that time carrying five fouls.
WNBA MVP Jonquel Jones, who was crowned earlier in the day, scored 26 points, grabbed 11 rebounds, and had four assists, with two blocked shots. Early in the game, she was especially dominant, and throughout the game, the crowd serenaded her with chants of “MVP, MVP.” Towards the end of the game, and in both of the overtimes, however, the Sky made it hard for JJ to score from anywhere but the foul line.
The Sun had four of their five starters named to the first or second all-WNBA defensive team: Briann January, Jonquel Jones, Jasmine Thomas, and Brionna Jones. And the Sun’s staunch defense did hold Chicago’s lead scorer Kahleah Copper to only 13 points and forced her to make 4 turnovers. But they couldn’t disrupt the vision and passing lanes of Courtney Vandersloot, who found her teammates all over the court. Candace Parker also added 22 points for the Sky, in a great all-around performance from the former MVP.
The Sun found more success than the Sky on second-chance points, grabbing 17 offensive boards to Chicago’s 4. But they shot only 37.8% from the floor and 71% from the foul line, which didn’t allow them to take advantage of having 10 more foul shots than the Sky. (To state the obvious: if the Sun had made those foul shots, they would have taken the game.)
Odds and Ends:
Basketball Wives (and Girlfriends):
Between the Chicago Sky and the Connecticut Sun, there were three known couples playing in the semi-final: wives Allie Quigley and Courtney Vandersloot on Chicago; fiancées Natisha Heideman and Jasmine Thomas; and partners DeWanna Bonner and Alyssa Thomas. Some might call it a triple date. It’s unclear if this number of couples has ever played in a semi-final together, or against each other (in the WNBA, I imagine it’s possible that this has happened before). I’d posit it’s never happened in an MNBA game, and the league is the poorer for it.
Personal note: I watched this game on the couch with my girlfriend. (It was, coincidentally, her birthday. Happy birthday, Anne. Lucky you, you got to watch two WNBA playoff games on your birthday.) At some point, Anne turned to me and said, “How do they remember not to kiss each other? I think they’d forget at some point. And then I’d kiss you after some play. And then it would be so embarrassing.”
This question seems like one all of these players have figured out.
More Gay Representation:
Earlier in the week, Connecticut Sun coach Curt Miller was named Coach of the Year in the WNBA. There are 774 male coaches in college and professional basketball. Curt Miller is still the only out gay man. Said Coach Miller earlier in the year, “Visibility & representation matters! I didn’t always want to be known as the ‘gay coach’ but now proud to pave the way for the next generation of gay male coaches.” Upon receiving the award, which Miller also received in 2017, Miller thanked his entire coaching staff, as well as his players, and Connecticut Sun Management.
Boiling It Down:
All of the end-of-season awards in the world don’t bring home a championship. At the same time, the Sun’s loss means something, but it doesn’t mean everything. The Sun, we have learned, are beatable. Chicago, with Candace Parker, Azurá Stevens, Stefanie Dolson, and Astou Ndour-Fall, have the length to at least slow down Connecticut’s inside game, and when Chicago controls the pace of play, as they were able to on Tuesday, Connecticut is less dominant than usual. But the Sun also endured a rough shooting night from the floor. DeWanna Bonner went 5-17 and Jasmine Thomas shot 1-9. Expect both of those players to be in better form this evening. And overall, the Sun won 14 games in a row for a reason. They were the best team in the WNBA during the regular season, and it wasn’t even close.
Down a game in the best of five series, the Sun will look to take the game tonight at home, and then win both games on the road in Chicago.
(Image Credit- Connecticut Sun twitter)