September 16, 2023 

With 3-pointers falling, Connecticut Sun show how dangerous they can be in playoffs

Last season's weakness was a strength for the Sun in Game 1

UNCASVILLE, Conn. — Tiffany Hayes got the Connecticut Sun’s postseason started on Wednesday with a banked three, igniting a fire that never burned out. Connecticut’s first three field goals were all threes, and the team beat the Minnesota Lynx 90-60 in Game 1 of a best-of-three series.

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What the Sun were missing in their 2022 WNBA Finals run — an effective and consistent 3-point shot — was on full display in their 2023 playoff opener. They made a season-high 16 threes, all assisted. They made extra passes to find open teammates, got loose on screens and ran ahead in transition.

“​​We kind of lit a fire in the beginning,” Minnesota Lynx forward Napheesa Collier said postgame about her team’s defense. “[The Sun] usually average seven threes and they came in and made nine in the first half. Once it gets going, it gives a team confidence.”

The Sun made a loud statement about their postseason potential, playing what head coach Stephanie White thought was their most complete 40 minutes all season behind excellent perimeter shooting, constant ball movement and capitalizing on Minnesota’s mistakes.

Minnesota held a 24-22 lead over the Sun less than three minutes into the second quarter. The Sun responded with a 21-3 run, scoring off three Minnesota turnovers in less than a minute, and ended the half with a 46-32 advantage. After a back-and-forth third quarter, the Sun outscored the Lynx 21-8 in the fourth quarter. The Sun ended the game with 28 assists on 33 made field goals.

“That’s how it’s going to have to be for us to continue to be successful,” White said after the win. “I loved the way we shared the basketball offensively, but just really incredibly proud of our defensive effort and execution.”

Connecticut Sun center Olivia Nelson-Ododa and guard Rebecca Allen surround Minnesota Lynx guard Aerial Powers with their hands up. Powers twists to try to pass out of the trap.
Connecticut Sun center Olivia Nelson-Ododa (10) and guard Rebecca Allen (9) defend Minnesota Lynx guard Aerial Powers (3) during a WNBA playoff game at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn., on Sept. 13, 2023. (Photo credit: Chris Poss | The Next)

This was the vision from the start of the offseason. In last year’s playoffs, the Sun ranked last in 3-pointers made and had the lowest 3-point rate of the eight playoff teams.

When White became head coach last November, she talked about adding shooters who could thrive in a free-flowing, four- or five-out offensive system to retool around the frontcourt core. New general manager Darius Taylor delivered, adding Hayes, Rebecca Allen and Ty Harris.

In their first playoff game with the Sun on Wednesday, those three guards shot a combined 12-for-15 from 3-point range.

“The way that we were moving the ball and finding the open shot and taking the shot, I think that’s a big thing we’ve been saying to the open shooter: ‘Let it fly,'” Allen told reporters after the game. “So we really just tried to make the most of whatever their rotations were and find that open player.”

Harris has shown that she can be a reliable 3-point shooter for the Sun, making a career-high 46.4% on 84 attempts this year. That leads the league for players with at least 80 attempts. It’s a dramatic increase from her three previous seasons playing for the Dallas Wings, when she never shot above 34% from three. She was a perfect 3-for-3 from long distance in Game 1.

“Honestly, when I tell you we shoot those shots every day, 100 times, I mean, it’s just consistency, hard work and just letting it pay off,” Harris said. “They tell me all the time [to] let it fly. When it’s going up, it’s going down. So when I get the ball, I just shoot it, and hopefully it goes in.”

Connecticut Sun guard Tyasha Harris releases a right-handed jump shot over Minnesota Lynx forward Nikolina Milic, who closes out with her right hand up.
Connecticut Sun guard Tyasha Harris (52) shoots over Minnesota Lynx forward Nikolina Milic (31) during a WNBA playoff game at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn., on Sept. 13, 2023. (Photo credit: Chris Poss | The Next)

Throughout the season, that guard trio showed spurts of potential, but it took time to build chemistry with new teammates and learn the coaching staff’s system. Then the team had to readjust when forward Brionna Jones went down with a season-ending injury in June.

The Sun have been good from 3-point range this season from an efficiency perspective, shooting 36% in the regular season. But in the team’s 13 losses, the Sun averaged just 33.4% from three.

After a close road win over the Washington Mystics on Aug. 22, White said that she wanted to see the team’s 3-point shooting percentage go up or the number of attempts go down.

“If we’re not shooting the ball well from three, we want to go ahead and get the drive-and-kicks and sprays and extra passes for threes, but we don’t necessarily need to shoot behind the on-ball screens,” White said. “I’d like our shot selection from three to be better.”

The Sun delivered on that in Game 1. The offense was flowing, and the ball moved side to side like White has envisioned all season. The Sun were willing to make the extra pass on the perimeter, but they didn’t hesitate to shoot when they got their chances.

And with everything on the line in the playoffs, the Sun showed they have more ways to scheme open 3-pointers, like an elevator screen that opened up Allen for a three in the third quarter.

“I just felt like we made the right plays. We made the right reads. We didn’t try to do it ourselves. We didn’t overpenetrate. We didn’t overanalyze,” White said

Connecticut Sun guard Rebecca Allen shoots a right-handed jump shot.
Connecticut Sun guard Rebecca Allen (9) shoots during a WNBA playoff game against the Minnesota Lynx at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn., on Sept. 13, 2023. (Photo credit: Chris Poss | The Next)

Minnesota Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve said after the game that she thought her team gave up too many open looks to Connecticut’s shooters.

“There were a couple of hard [makes] that we kind of got to live with those,” Reeve said. “There were ones that we were … six feet off of them and kind of dared them to shoot, good shooters, and we just can’t do that.”

Lynx guard Kayla McBride led her team with 14 points in the first half and had as many made field goals as her teammates combined. But the Sun held her to 1-for-7 shooting in the second half.

Collier started the first half 1-for-5 from the floor and ended the game with 14 points and six rebounds. While she had a solid game overall, she did all of her work in the paint and mostly in the second half as the Sun frustrated her early with aggressive double and triple teams.

In Game 2 at Mohegan Sun Arena on Sunday, Connecticut will have to continue to be aggressive on defense and contain Collier on all three levels.

“Our activity [and] our sense of urgency was there,” White said. “It’s always about, how can we continue to be better? How can we continue to raise the standard of excellence? And I thought our team as a whole did a really good job of staying locked in.”

Proving the team can keep up pace throughout a series and keeping the same defensive pressure while continuing to make shots from the outside will be the Sun’s next playoff tests.

“We certainly understand that the job is not done, but it’s a good start,” White said.

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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