September 20, 2020 

Aces-Sun preview: What we learned in the regular season

Connecticut, Las Vegas begin best-of-five series on Sunday

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Lindsay Allen #15 of the Las Vegas Aces handles the ball against the Connecticut Sun on August 20, 2020, at Feld Entertainment Center in Palmetto, Florida. (Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Las Vegas Aces are back in action on Sunday. As the No. 1 overall seed, they earned a double-bye into the semifinals. Las Vegas will face off with the Connecticut Sun, who upended the No. 3-seeded Los Angeles Sparks on Thursday in round two. Let’s look back on the meetings between Las Vegas and Connecticut from the regular season ahead of Sunday’s Game 1. 

August 20: Sun 78, Aces 99

Connecticut led by as many as eight in the opening quarter, but the Aces took control in the second and cruised in the second half. Las Vegas shot 11-for-16 from the field in the first but turned it over six times as Briann January hit three 3-pointers for the Sun. Connecticut shot just 4-for-19 from deep the rest of the way. 

The tide turned in that second quarter. The Sun turned it over seven times, and the Aces got to the line nine times to Connecticut’s zero. A’ja Wilson and Kayla McBride paced the Aces, shooting 12-for-15 from the field in the first half. McBride was efficient and decisive hitting tough shots on the move and taking advantage of her chances to attack the paint. Wilson shot a combined 18-for-26 in the two Connecticut games and looked very comfortable shooting right over the different matchups the Sun threw at her. Connecticut may need to get even more aggressive in this series to crowd Wilson early and try to force longer passes back out to the perimeter. 

Sun leading scorer DeWanna Bonner shot just 4-for-12 from the field and finished with just two free throw attempts. The Aces made sure she ran into multiple defenders on drives into the lane. Bonner’s 3-point shooting—0-for-4 in this game and just 25.2 percent on 4.9 attempts per game this season—could be a bellwether for Connecticut’s overall success in this series.  

Keeping playmaking forward Alyssa Thomas from driving all the way to the rim will be a big key for the Aces defensively. In transition, Thomas will look to push immediately after grabbing a defensive rebound. In the halfcourt, Las Vegas needs to limit her chances of slashing all the way to the rim. Thomas does not shoot a traditional jump shot. Although she can get rolling with floaters and runners, the Aces can play the percentages if they force her to do her damage with those from closer to 15 feet away from the basket than, say, seven or eight. 

The Sun need more from Jasmine Thomas, both as a spot-up 3-point shooting threat and as an attacking guard to get to the rim and make some plays for others. Connecticut’s starting point guard shot just 1-for-4 from the field with four turnovers against four assists. Bria Holmes, who played 20 minutes off the bench in this game, has been lost for the season to a knee injury. Expect to see a lot of Kaila Charles and Essence Carson off the bench in this series. 

The Sun acquired Theresa Plaisance last season to open up the floor as a stretch 5, but rookie Beatrice Mompremier appears to have leapfrogged her in the rotation lately. Could Plaisance re-enter the mix to give the Sun another shooting threat on the floor? Setting aside the opening stint of the game, Plaisance logged more minutes in that August 20 contest than starting center Brionna Jones. 

September 3: Aces 93, Sun 78

This game actually followed a similar trajectory with Connecticut taking an early lead before the Aces jumped back in front and turned on the jets. Two notable absences make events from this second contest appear rather ill-fitting if we wish to use them to paint a picture of what this semifinals series might look like. Starting power forward Alyssa Thomas (hand) and starting point guard Jasmine Thomas (foot) did not suit up in this game. 

Carson and Charles, two key Connecticut reserves mentioned above with the upcoming series in mind, entered the starting lineup for the Thomii. The Sun had another poor shooting day overall from the outside, connecting on just four of their 19 3-point attempts. January, their most dangerous standstill shooter, went just 0-for-1 from deep—a number the Aces would love to see (and contribute to) again. 

The Sun also struggled with turnovers once again, this time finishing with 21 to just 10 for the Aces. Bonner did get to the free throw line 12 times, but the Sun just did not have the firepower without two starters, who also happen to rank among the league’s top defenders at their respective positions. Dearica Hamby and Jackie Young combined for a whopping 40 points off the bench after Young attempted just two shots in the first meeting. Those two players essentially played starter’s minutes for the Aces in the regular season, and those totals may creep even higher now in the postseason. 

More on the matchup

Because it is so difficult to circle much more from that second matchup, let’s wrap with some numbers (via WNBA.com) to know about both teams that will likely be key indicators of their success in this series.

  • Las Vegas finished the regular season with the No. 2 defense, allowing just 97.2 points per 100 possessions. Connecticut wasn’t far behind at No. 4 (99.5 points allowed per 100).

  • Over the span of their last 10 games, Connecticut ranked No. 1, allowing just 98.0 points per 100. This is a clash of two of the league’s best defenses.

  • The Aces led the league in defensive rebounding percentage, pulling down 74.8 percent of all available defensive rebounds.

  • Connecticut, meanwhile, posted the second-highest offensive rebounding percentage (32.9).

  • Alyssa Thomas used the third-most transition possessions in the league this season according to Synergy Sports.

  • As a whole, the Aces played at the second-fastest pace in the league according to PBPStats.com, averaging 14.25 seconds per possession.

  • With those factors in mind, the Sun may be in more danger of coming up on the losing end when it comes to the battle for early offense if they continue to crash the offensive glass hard and the Aces hold serve on the defensive glass.

  • The Sun ranked 10th in halfcourt offensive efficiency according to Synergy Sports, scoring just 0.862 points per possession.

  • Las Vegas ranked second (0.947).

  • All told, the Aces earned the No. 1 seed and are the favorites in this series for a reason. If both teams ensure that the battle in transition doesn’t become too lopsided, the Aces appear to have more options to consistently find good shots and score efficiently in the halfcourt as these two excellent defenses dig their heels in.

Written by Ben Dull

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