September 15, 2022
How missed opportunities put the Sun in a 2-0 WNBA Finals hole
And what needs to change to prevent a Las Vegas championship
Down just three points after taking the first three minutes of the second half to shave an eight-point halftime deficit with a 9-4 run, the Connecticut Sun were in position to finally take the lead over the Las Vegas Aces after a messy start.
The Sun have struggled to find consistent offensive production throughout the playoffs, and Tuesday was no different. They’ve made up for that with staunch defense in Game 1, but the Aces came out hot on Tuesday, and consistently beat Sun defenders one on one, en route to an 85-71 victory to take a 2-0 series lead back to Connecticut, where the teams will meet up in Game 3 Thursday night at 9 PM ET.
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So when Connecticut started stringing together stops and buckets, they needed to take the opportunity to pounce. But after Becky Hamon called a timeout with 7:12 to play in the third quarter, the Sun offense went cold again.
The Aces responded with a 19-8 run of their own to end the quarter, finishing the third with more points than they scored in all of Game 1.
The Sun opened the second half with energy and momentum and finished the quarter frustrated and haphazard. By the time the fourth frame rolled around, the Sun were behind 14 points, with little hope of a comeback. They were given a window of opportunity and couldn’t make anything happen.
About a minute after Hammon’s time out early in the third quarter, Chelsea Gray left the game for the locker room with the Aces up five points after she appeared to trip over Natisha Hiedeman and twist her ankle.
Over the next five minutes, the Sun missed five consecutive field goals, only cashing in on two free throws from Brionna Jones. And the Aces extended their lead back to 10 points during the three minutes their floor general received treatment in the locker room.
While the Sun strung together multiple defensive stops while Gray was off the floor, Connecticut just couldn’t make open jumpers, and couldn’t convert in transition – something head coach Curt Miller stressed the importance of doing better ahead of Game 2.
“We just felt like we were playing catch up all night because we couldn’t string together consecutive stops. And again, we are trying to find disruption,” Miller said. “We are trying to keep this high-powered offense out of rhythm, and tonight we really struggled to do that.”
The Aces were completely unbothered during Game 2, imposing their own style of play and playing at their own pace. The Sun faltered on defense, letting A’ja Wilson, Chelsea Gray, and Kelsey Plum all get to their strong sides, the opposite story of Game 1.
Miller said the Aces made a concerted effort to get the ball inside, and they were successful going against a typically-dominant Connecticut frontcourt, shooting 71 percent on two pointers on the night. Miller and Jonquel Jones said the Sun didn’t have success guarding Aces players one on one.
“They were just extremely aggressive. I think we did a better job of playing one-on-one defense in Game 1 and we didn’t do as well of a job this game and I think that was the major difference,” Jonquel Jones said. “Them just putting their heads down and getting to the basket and being able to finish through contact or getting to the free-throw line.”
The Aces made a concerted effort to play downhill and dominate the paint, and outscored the Sun 46-28 inside – the Sun’s lowest outing since the Washington Mystics held the Sun to a season low 20 paint points in a 71-63 loss in June. Plum especially used her speed to get to the rim, and the Sun let Plum and Wilson go to their dominant left hand almost at will.
“They flipped points in the paint and just dominated that area, and it was mostly off the bounce,” Miller said. “There were some slips and other things but it was mostly off the bounce and a lot of times, not every time, but a lot of times it was just one-on-one, and Kelsey [Plum] led the charge there just was relentless in the paint.”
The Aces ended up tied with the Sun in the rebounding battle 34 all after garbage time in the fourth quarter, but had outrebounded the Sun throughout the entire game. The Sun missed 37 baskets and only grabbed six offensive rebounds for nine second chance points, an essential part of the Sun’s offense especially when shots aren’t falling.
“They were really trying not to let us get the o boards. I think Game 1 we were pretty successful on getting to the o boards and second chances,” Alyssa thomas said. “For us, we have to take better shots at times. We took a lot of quick shots and that makes it hard to get in position to rebound.”
Despite all of that, the Sun still found themselves in a position to even the game and possibly take the lead in the third quarter, and let it slip away because they couldn’t make shots — a problem that has plagued them in losses all postseason.
The Sun have missed Bonner’s production all series, as she has shot a combined 2-for-18 from the field. They need her to get going if they are going to take advantage of the limited opportunities the Aces give them.
Courtney Williams bounced back with a 18 point game shooting better than 50 percent, and all three All-Star posts scored in double figures — and the Sun still didn’t even come close to winning because they didn’t have Bonner’s offensive production. They’ll need as much production from her as possible to keep up with Gray, Wilson, and Plum and avoid a sweep in Game 3.
“We are taking it one game at a time. That’s all we can do,” Jonquel Jones said. ”We are going to have our fans behind us, who have been with us all season, and we are going to use that to propel us to a win and that’s all we can do.”