July 11, 2021 

Connecticut Sun earn Eastern Conference berth in inaugural Commissioner’s Cup Championship

The Sun will face the Seattle Storm on Aug. 12 for a chance at revenge and a significant paycheck

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Kaila Charles and DeWanna Bonner celebrate with Jonquel Jones and Briann January after a play on the court during the Sun’s game against the Atlanta Dream on Friday, July 9, at Mohegan Sun Arena. Photo by Chris Poss

As Briann January put it, the Connecticut Sun “secured the bag” on Friday night.

The team bounced back from a disappointing loss against the Indiana Fever last Saturday, had one of its best shooting nights of the season, and ground out an 84-72 win over the Atlanta Dream.

With the win, the Sun became the first team to clinch a berth in the inaugural Commissioner’s Cup Championship, and with that came an automatic bonus. Players are automatically guaranteed $10,000 each for playing in the championship with a chance for that to increase to $30,000 each if they win. The Commissioner’s Cup MVP will receive an additional $5,000. 

The Sun will face off against the Seattle Storm, the Western Conference representatives, on August 12 in Phoenix after the Olympic break and three days before the regular season resumes. 

January, a 13-year veteran, said the idea of playing an additional game before the playoffs isn’t that inconvenient when there’s bonus money involved. 

“I hope it does what it’s intended to do, which is bring some buzz to the league, bring some excitement, have fans tune in and just see the high level basketball that we can play,” January said. “I’m really excited, and hopefully we come away with 30k.”

The league introduced the Commissioner’s Cup before the season as a marketing asset to possible brands and sponsors, as well as an avenue for players to earn additional money during the regular season. Unlike the WNBA playoffs, which doesn’t take conferences into consideration, the Commissioner’s Cup hopes to revive intra-conference rivalries as teams go head to head against other teams in their conference for the best record. 

A team’s record against other conference rivals for the first home game and the first away game counted toward the commissioner’s cup standings. The Sun had been in position to clinch a berth in the inaugural Commissioner’s Cup all season, although the Chicago Sky threatened to overtake the top spot on the Eastern Conference leaderboard after beating Connecticut in their first head-to-head matchup.

But after the Sun took the second game in Connecticut, the team controlled their destiny from that point out. The Sun still have to play one more Commissioner’s Cup game against the New York Liberty on Sunday during the final game before the Olympic break, but with an 8-1 cup record, it’s impossible for Chicago (6-3) to tie the Sun. 

“One goal down, one to go, and we just got to continue to build on it, but of course we’ll celebrate tonight,” Bonner said after clinching the Eastern Conference. “We’ll do that a little bit and enjoy this win because it’s just huge for Connecticut, just where this program has come from and now we’re in the Commissioner’s Cup game and sitting in third place. It just says a lot about this team.” 

Although Seattle lost to the Phoenix Mercury on Friday night, the team ended up clinching the Western Conference berth after a Minnesota victory over the Las Vegas Aces eliminated the only other Western team who could mathematically take over the top spot. 

The Commissioner’s Cup Championship will provide the Sun with an added opportunity for revenge on top of extra cash and bragging rights.

Seattle already swept the head-to-head series as the two teams only played each other twice in the regular season this year. The first match, an 87-90 overtime loss in Seattle at the end of a long west coast road trip, the Sun played without head coach Curt Miller on the sidelines, who was serving a one-game suspension at that time. The final game, an 89-66 Storm blowout at Mohegan Sun Arena, was the first game the team played without Jonquel Jones, who left to play in EuroBasket. 

The Sun will most likely have all their players and coaches available and healthy for the Commissioner’s Cup game in August, and the scheduling may work out in their favor.

Miller said the Sun will take 17 days off during the Olympic break before returning to practice. That would put the full team back on the practice court sometime during the last week of July. The Storm, on the other hand, have six players who will be playing in Tokyo and the Olympics don’t end until August 8. 

Before the game against Atlanta on Friday, Bonner said that the team was focused on finishing out the first half of the season strong and didn’t want to jump the gun in assuming that they’d end up facing Seattle in the Commissioner’s Cup game. However, she said the possible rematch would be a good opportunity to play a top team in the league before the playoffs.

“They beat us twice, (and) pretty bad here at home, so they’re the top team. They’re one of the top teams in the league for a reason,” Bonner said. “They’re WNBA champions, they’ve been there at the top for a while, so it’s going to take a lot of scouting, a lot of hard work, and if that matchup happens we’re going to be prepared.

“We’re going to be ready. We know we can do better and hopefully if we match up, we do a little bit better than we did.”

Miller added that playing a top team like Seattle, who are still a game ahead of Las Vegas and 1.5 games ahead of Connecticut in the league-wide standings, will give the Sun another learning opportunity before the postseason.

“Those are always great lessons when you play against Stewie, and you play against (Sue) Bird, and Jewell Loyd. It’s always going to be great for us,” Miller said after the game. “Do I wish it didn’t interfere with some practice before we pick back up that second half with Dallas? You know, I hope it doesn’t affect us in the regular season games, but again, it’s significant enough money for these guys. A bonus that makes it certainly worthwhile.”

Written by Jacqueline LeBlanc

Jacqueline LeBlanc is the Connecticut Sun beat reporter for The Next. Prior to The Next, Jacqueline has written for Her Hoop Stats and Sports Illustrated.

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