Sun’s playoff run: two wins away from the WNBA finals

It was shaping up to be a disastrous season for the Connecticut Sun before the halfway mark. With one win in their first seven games, the 2019 WNBA finalists were on route to finishing with high odds for the draft lottery without their 2021 first-round pick.

In their defense, this year’s roster included significant additions and subtractions, most notably the absence of forward Jonquel Jones. The 26-year old opted out due to her concerns regarding COVID-19, leaving big shoes for Connecticut to fill on the court.

Two permanent subtractions from their 2019 lineup included guard Courtney Williams and forward Shekinna Stricklen, with the two combining for 22.2 points per game. However, the addition of forward DeWanna Bonner nearly replaced their scoring output.

Averaging 19.7 points per game this season, Bonner has been crucial to the Sun’s regular season and postseason success. A breakout season from center Brionna Jones also played a big part for the Sun, averaging 11.2 points and 5.6 rebounds per game.

The performance of forward Alyssa Thomas has been outstanding, bringing her game to another level by averaging 15.5 points, 9.0 rebounds and 4.8 assists per game. Guard Jasmine Thomas has continued her steady play as a Connecticut mainstay.

Ideally, guard Briann January would’ve played more minutes this season, but a positive COVID-19 test delayed her arrival into the Wubble. It ultimately impacted her season after arriving, as she put up career lows in points per game and field goal percentage.

After maintaining some stability in their lineup, the Sun followed up their 1-6 start with a three-game win streak and finished with a 10-12 record. They managed to secure the playoffs’ seventh seed, setting up a single-elimination game against the Chicago Sky.

Round 1 vs. Chicago Sky

The sixth-seeded Sky’s starting lineup featured four players who each averaged 13.4 or more points per game, including guards Courtney Vandersloot and Allie Quigley. They were also dealing with two notable injuries to Azurá Stevens and Diamond DeShields.

Outscoring the Sky 27-11 in the third quarter proved to be the difference, as the Sun came out on top in a 94-81 win. Alyssa Thomas was two assists away from a triple-double, with 28 points and 13 rebounds, while the Sun dominated in rebounding all game.

Round 2 vs. Los Angeles Sparks

While the Sky were a formidable opponent, it would only become more challenging for Connecticut in a single-elimination game against the Los Angeles Sparks. As the third seed, the Sparks were looking to avenge their semifinals loss against the Sun last year.

Despite the Sparks’ best efforts, this game wasn’t close from the start, as the Sun outscored Los Angeles 22-8 in the first quarter. A team effort by Connecticut resulted in a 73-59 victory, while the Sparks shot a mere 11.1% from beyond the three-point line.

Game 1 of the Semifinals vs. Las Vegas Aces

Their most challenging task to date is a best-of-five series against the WNBA’s top seed, led by league MVP A’ja Wilson. Given the Sun were eight games back of the Aces at the end of the season, most would bet on a convincing win for the Aces.

The Sun flipped the script in Game 1 with a final score of 87-62 and outscoring the Aces in all four quarters. Jasmine Thomas led the way this time, putting up 31 points and hitting 72.2% of her field goal attempts, while the team scored half of their field goal attempts.

It’s hard to imagine the Sun will remain unbeaten en route to the WNBA finals, not to mention they still need to best the league’s top team two more times. This run will only become more difficult, but their 1-0 edge on the Aces is a testament to their resilience. Game 2 tips off Sept. 22 at 9 p.m. ET.

Featured photo: DeWanna Bonner of the Connecticut Sun (Photo by Rick Skuter, courtesy of Hartford Courant.)

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