Four times Connecticut has faced elimination this year in the WNBA playoffs and four times the Sun have responded with a convincing win to stay alive.
The most convincing came Thursday, when Connecticut bounced back from two losses in Las Vegas to rout the Aces 105-76 at home in Game 3 of the Finals, putting six players in double figures and outscoring Vegas 64-26 in the paint. The margin of victory was the largest in a WNBA Finals elimination game.
“If you could encapsulate Connecticut, it’s physical, and very resilient,” Aces coach Becky Hammon said. “They’re physical, and they’re resilient, and they have a kind of a battle-type mentality.”
The Sun showed that in beating Dallas in a deciding third game in the first round, and again in winning two straight after falling behind 2-1 to Chicago in the semifinals, including a 24-point win in the first of the two elimination games in that series.
Get Connecticut local news, weather forecasts and entertainment stories to your inbox. Sign up for NBC Connecticut newsletters.
The team will have to win two more elimination games, including Sunday at home, to take home the organization’s first WNBA title.
“I think it’s just the M.O. of our team,” said forward Jonquel Jones, who scored 20 points Thursday. “When our backs are against the wall, we play really good basketball. And sometimes you wish that you didn’t put yourself in those positions. But that’s done now. All we can do is focus on the next game. And I just feel like in the playoffs, anytime our backs is going against the wall, you see us come out.”
Connecticut made several successful adjustments in Game 3, including assigning 6-foot-4 DeWanna Bonner to guard the red-hot Chelsea Gray. The Aces guard scored just 11 points after averaging 23.3 over her first eight games of the playoffs.
“Chelsea’s been killing it this playoff run but yeah, I did the best I can and stopped her and my teammates were right there,” Bonner said. “As long as they are right there. I’m gonna be right there with them.”
Bonner, who made just two of her 18 shots in the first two games of the series also erupted from that slump, scoring 18 points while going 8 of 15 from the field and buoying her teammates.
“There’s no secret that she has championship pedigree, and has played on some great teams,” Sun coach Curt Miller said. “And so we have a group that really looks up to her. So when she plays with energy. ... It just gives the rest of our crew so much confidence.”
But Hammon said her Aces are angry after the loss and are prepared to make adjustments of their own in Game 4.
Guard Kelsey Plum said that will include being more physical and trying to keep the Sun’s Alyssa Thomas out of the high post. The 6--2 forward operated with impunity there Thursday, spreading the ball to teammates or driving to the basket. She ended up with the first triple-double in WNBA Finals history, scoring 16 points, grabbing 15 rebounds and passing for 11 assists.
“I don’t think that we adjusted as well as we could have,” Plum said. “They got to the 50/50 Balls and physicality wise, we didn’t match that energy that they played with, specifically Alyssa Thomas. She’d beat us to a lot of those balls and that’s on us. That’ll be fixed for Sunday.”