September 23, 2020 

Alyssa Thomas went down. Now what?

How the Connecticut Sun move forward without their star forward

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Connecticut Sun v Las Vegas Aces – Game TwoPALMETTO, FL – SEPTEMBER 22: Briann January #20 of the Connecticut Sun handles the ball against the Las Vegas Aces in Game Two of the Semifinals of the 2020WNBA Playoffs on September 22, 2020 at Feld Entertainment Center in Palmetto, Florida. Copyright 2020 NBAE (Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images)

Alyssa Thomas spent just 14 minutes on the bench during the Connecticut Sun’s three previous playoff games combined, but spent the last 35 minutes of the team’s 83-75 loss to the Las Vegas Aces with a sling on her arm. 

Thomas went to the ground holding her right shoulder while guarding A’ja Wilson in the middle of the first quarter. 

There was no specific moment of contact that appeared to cause the injury and Thomas briefly left the facility to go to the hospital to receive further testing. 

“Alyssa Thomas is the centerpiece of what we do,” Curt Miller said.

In the team’s first three playoff games Thomas averaged 21.7 points, 8.7 rebounds, 6.0 assists and 2.7 assists per game. 

But Miller said Wednesday, as the Sun await MRI results on Alyssa Thomas, that the team is moving forward as if she won’t be playing. Indeed, in the injury report released Wednesday evening, Thomas was listed as out.

Connecticut is not only tasked with how to replace Thomas’ minutes, but her productivity as well. 

“She spearheads our transition game, we play through her in the tunnel a lot. So, you have to obviously offensively make some adjustments that way … So now you got to play a few people out of position that haven’t played a lot of 4. And again, you change your attack midstream,” Miller said about the team’s offense without her.

“Defensively, we were competitive, we were right there, as much as they were pounding the ball into the paint. We had trouble keeping them off the foul line, but again, scheme-wise, she allows us to have such diversity to our defensive game plan. And without her, you don’t have as much at your disposal defensively.”

Despite not having Thomas on the floor for most of the game, the Sun were able to maintain control of the game until the final minutes of the game. In less than a minute the score went from tied at 75 to an 82-75 Aces lead.

Still, Briann January understands that her Sun were close enough to figuring it out that there’s no fatalism setting in without Thomas.

“The focus doesn’t change,” January said. “We can’t sit there and dwell on it. I know, and everybody  else on our team [knows] that AT would want us to fight till the final horn.”

January believes that forcing the Aces to score by twos, not threes or three-point plays, will be an important part of the team’s defensive attack. 

“[Las Vegas] have a lot of length, they have a lot of athleticism, but we need to continue to stay aggressive, keep them on their heels, go North, South, down to the rim and make them guard … But it’s important for all of us just to stay aggressive,” she said. 

Overall she believes that this team has the pieces in place and mindset to continue to win games. She also appreciates the team showing up and fighting every day, from the starters to the end of the bench. 

“We never get too high, we never get too low, and we’re gonna we’re gonna show up tomorrow, look at what we need to adjust and show up ready to fight the next time we step on that court,” January said. 

Every player on the team will have to step up while Thomas is out, especially on the defensive end of the floor, in order for the Sun to win games in this series. 

January took on a larger role in Game 2, and will need to continue to for the rest of the series after having a season high 20 points, going 3-4 from three, and added four rebounds and three assists in Game 2. 

“I think she was aggressive when AT when out. I think she started looking for her shot a little bit more. … She’s a great player, she’s a vet, she’s won the championship too so she knows exactly what it takes. Right after the game she was like, we’ll be back at it. So she’ll be ready, we’ll be ready next game,” teammate DeWanna Bonner said. 

In the post, Brionna Jones and Beatrice Mompremier will need to continue to step up to continue to rebound and defend. 

Jones has provided some big-time performances this season, but had just 10 points and six rebounds in Game 2. With Alyssa Thomas out, Jones will need to give the Sun more, but she stressed that it would not just be her.

“I think it’s all of us together, and I’m definitely ready to step up and do more for the team if need be, but I think it’s going to be a collective effort,” Jones said. 

The Aces missed 23 shots in the first half, and Mompremier was the only Sun player with more than two offensive rebounds, grabbing seven.

 “Beatrice’s length bothered them at times around the rim, she did a really nice job with their activity and then defensive rebounding especially in the first half. She stepped up in a big moment,” said Miller. 

Mompremier finished the game with nine rebounds, three blocks and two points. Despite her struggles on the offensive end, she has been able to make a significant impact. 

As for Jasmine Thomas, the 31-point hero of Game 1 knows she needs to find ways to score more and take on much of the playmaking that Alyssa Thomas typically takes on in her point forward role.

“She’s a huge facilitator for our offense, both in transition and in the halfcourt,” Jasmine Thomas said Wednesday afternoon. Thomas pointed out that after looking at the tape, Bri Jones provided additional work passing out of the high post.

“After watching film and seeing where opportunities are and seeing how we cannot get sped up and still execute our offense, [we see where we can be] making extra passes and getting the shots we want,” Thomas said.

Game 3 of the semifinal series between the Sun and the Aces tips off at 9:30 p.m. ET on Thursday.

Written by Natalie Heavren

Natalie Heavren has been a contributor to The Next since February 2019 and currently writes about the Atlantic 10 conference, the WNBA and the WBL.

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