WNBA Finals 2022 – How the Connecticut Sun saved their season for an additional shot at a WNBA title

Jonquel Jones, Alyssa Thomas and Brionna Jones sat on the podium following the Connecticut Sun’s 67-64 loss on the Las Vegas Aces on Sunday in Recreation 1 of the 2022 WNBA Finals. Outdoors of the primary couple of minutes, it was the kind of sport performed to Connecticut’s liking stylistically — extra defensive slog than high-scoring affair. The Sun had an opportunity to tie the rating popping out of a timeout with 13.4 seconds to play, however DeWanna Bonner misfired a 3-point try, permitting the Aces to come back away with the win.

It could have been straightforward for the Sun to fixate on what may have been: snatching a coveted highway win in entrance of a boisterous, adversarial crowd, particularly after controlling the vast majority of the primary half and main by as many as eight factors early within the third quarter. As a substitute, the gamers’ tone within the postgame information convention was composed. Unshaken, even.

“After this game, we have to have a lot of confidence,” Thomas stated. “I mean, this is a three-point game, and we had a chance to tie. I think we are very confident, and we know that all you need is one [win] and then there’s two games at our place.”

As Jonquel Jones added, “Ultimately, I’m happy with the game that we played, and we gave ourselves a good opportunity to come out there with a win, and it just didn’t go our way. But we are excited about Game 2.”

The boldness the Sun channeled Sunday did not come out of nowhere. Going through elimination within the semifinals, veteran ahead Bonner referred to as a players-only assembly following their crushing Recreation 3 dwelling loss to the Chicago Sky on Sept. 4. The assembly rekindled an air of levity and perception that saved Connecticut’s season and propelled the Sun to their first Finals look since 2019; and persevering with to play that manner stays essential for the Sun to beat a 0-1 deficit within the Finals and win the franchise’s first WNBA championship.

“I don’t even know if we found that confidence at all in the playoffs until we won that Game 4, and then it was like, ‘All right, let’s go,'” Bonner stated. “‘This is how we want to play. We want to have fun. We can’t have fun if we’re playing uptight.'”

Other than their Finals counterpart, no workforce over the previous 4 years has knocked on the door of successful a title as repeatedly because the Sun. Counting its early franchise historical past, which featured WNBA Finals appearances in 2004 and 2005, Connecticut has the unlucky distinction of getting probably the most playoffs wins with out a title (36).

Within the 2019 Finals, the Sun took the Washington Mystics to a decisive Recreation 5 earlier than Washington surged late to seize the championship. The Sun reached the semifinals the following two seasons, in 2020 with out Jonquel Jones (opt-out) and in 2021 with out Alyssa Thomas (Achilles tendon tear) a lot of the summer time however fell wanting advancing each occasions.

Issues have been trying up in 2022 earlier than longtime level guard Jasmine Thomas sustained a season-ending ACL tear in Might. Bria Hartley, introduced in to shore up the workforce’s backcourt depth, suffered the identical harm three video games into her Sun profession. The workforce additionally skilled a private tragedy when coach Curt Miller’s mom died in August.

Most groups dealing with an unsure offseason assert that the long run shouldn’t be prime of thoughts, however the Sun have not shied away from speaking publicly about their closing championship window. Sixth Participant of the 12 months Brionna Jones in addition to starters Courtney Williams and Natisha Hiedeman are all free brokers heading into the offseason.

The load of all of it was obvious because the Sun burrowed by the postseason, however particularly in Recreation 3 of the semifinals, with the sequence tied. Connecticut performed its most popular “messy” model of basketball however could not cross the end line at dwelling, uncharacteristically lacking 39% of its photographs inside 5 ft of the rim. Miller, who was miked up in the course of the sport, was caught saying on nationwide tv he was “going to get fired because we can’t make a layup.” After a tricky evening towards Chicago’s size, Jonquel Jones, the 2021 WNBA MVP, sat a lot of the contest’s closing minutes — a transfer criticized by some followers — as Miller sought to complete with a smaller lineup centered round Brionna Jones.

What occurred subsequent had the potential to make or break their season. And so Bonner approached Miller after the sport, insisting that as a substitute of watching extra movie the workforce maintain a players-only assembly.

Bonner stated she noticed a nervousness and tightness holding again the Sun — that they have been enjoying to not make errors, to not lose.

“I just sat everybody down, I said, ‘Come on, this is not us,'” Bonner stated. “‘Let’s just play like whatever happens happens. They kicked our ass anyways, so why not just play?'”

“We weren’t ourselves the first couple games of the [semifinals]. As a matter of fact, the whole playoffs, I felt like we just weren’t ourselves.”

Bonner, at 34 the eldest participant on the roster and the one one to win a title, boasts the expertise and pedigree to carry the workforce accountable, as she was a part of the Phoenix Mercury’s championship groups in 2009 and 2014, when she performed alongside Diana Taurasi, Cappie Pondexter, Brittney Griner and Penny Taylor.

“DB is a champion,” Sun guard Hiedeman stated of Bonner. “She’s been there. She knows what it takes. Her speeches have been on point lately, so we’ve been feeding off of that. … She’s leading the way, and we’re following.”

Miller’s instincts are at all times to overprepare, however he stated, “In that moment, DB having a heart-to-heart with our team is what they needed, and they’ve absolutely thrived off of it.”

The Sun burst out of the gates towards the Sky in Recreation 4 with among the finest offensive stream and motion they’ve had in a very long time, setting a WNBA playoff file with 66 factors within the paint and, Miller stated, making them assured they may play messy and disruptive on the defensive finish whereas nonetheless discovering success offensively.

Bonner, who has competed in 70 postseason video games, stated Recreation 4 felt in contrast to every other playoff sport she has ever performed in.

Miller acknowledged that folk like him and the notoriously intense Alyssa Thomas are very aggressive in distinction to gamers reminiscent of Jonquel Jones and Courtney Williams, who’ve upbeat personalities and play higher after they’re having enjoyable. However staying free was what this workforce wanted to rediscover its groove.

“This group certainly thrives on that,” Miller stated. “That was the message from the players to each other, that was the message from me, the last thing we said before we took the floor [in Game 5]. Have fun.”

Recreation 5 in Chicago wasn’t completely enjoyable for the Sun, particularly within the third quarter, when their offensive execution was in shambles towards the Sky’s empowered defensive aggression. The Sun confronted an 11-point deficit early within the fourth, however their protection stayed sturdy, whereas forcing the difficulty in transition to claw on the lead. They completed the sport on an 18-0 run to ship dwelling a flummoxed Wintrust Enviornment crowd.

The Sun discovered methods to maneuver the ball properly within the second quarter of Recreation 1 of the Finals, after they outscored the Aces 21-9, and Connecticut completed with 18 assists on 28 baskets as in comparison with Las Vegas’ eight assists. However the Sun have been extra stagnant within the second half, permitting Las Vegas to go on its run; and whereas their guard effectivity thrived in Video games 4 and 5 of the semifinals, Bonner and Williams mixed for simply eight factors on 3-for-18 taking pictures from the sector on Sunday. At occasions, Connecticut appeared unaware of the shot clock, and Miller thought his workforce did not at all times reap the benefits of the alternatives it obtained towards the Aces’ zone.

To even the sequence on Tuesday (9 p.m. ET, ESPN), earlier than it heads east to Uncasville, Connecticut must come out with renewed dedication to offensive execution, one thing that — because the semifinals and even components of Sunday’s Recreation 1 proved — tends to be simpler the looser and freer they’re capable of play.

And an early 0-1 deficit? As Jonquel Jones posted on Instagram on Sunday night, “We just getting started.”

“I think if we stay together, anything is possible with this team,” Bonner stated on the conclusion of the semifinals. “What we’ve been through this year … it’s just been crazy. We’ve just been so relentless.

“We work so rattling arduous, however do not depend us out but. As a result of we’re relentless.”