Alyssa Thomas (16 points, 15 rebounds and 11 assists) recorded the first triple-double in WNBA Finals history and Connecticut finally found a way to cool down hot Las Vegas guard Chelsea Gray, so that the Sun won 105-76 at home on Thursday night. to force a game 4.
“They just kicked our ass every way they could,” Aces coach Becky Hammon said. “If there had been a stat on mental strength and physicality, they would have kicked us there as well.”
But before Connecticut won Game 4 of the 2022 playoffs, there were scoring runs — lots of them.
After Vegas took a 9-2 lead, Connecticut clinched a 25-4 run to end the first quarter, building up to a 23-point first-half lead. The Sun held off an Ace run just before the break that cut the lead to nine, then scored three quick field goals to open the fourth quarter and close out the win. With the Sun firmly in control with less than five minutes left, Hammon fired his starters. Game 4 will tip Sunday at 4 p.m. ET. The Aces still lead the series 2-1. Both franchises are looking for their first WNBA title.
2022 WNBA Playoffs:How Sun and Aces got here
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The real story Thursday night, however, was the defense. In what could have been the series adjustment, Sun’s coach Curt Miller brought in 6ft 4in guard DeWanna Bonner – who has an impressive wingspan that extends beyond his size – to check Gray.
Gray finished with 11 points and seven assists, but she was scoreless in the second half and attempted just seven shots all night. (Nine of Gray’s points came on three straight 3s she hit when Bonner was on the bench.)
Bonner’s length bothered Gray whenever they were paired. She covered Gray, who was shooting 60.5 percent from the field in eight playoff games, averaging 23.3 points and 7.1 assists.
Bonner said she tried to “just stay locked in” when babysitting Gray, using her length to “stop her getting a clean look at the basket before she even got to her place.”
“I think it was a team effort,” Bonner said of Gray’s slowdown. “Now we have to come up with another game plan to do it again.”
Perhaps more importantly, however, the veteran finally showed up offensively.
After scoring just five points combined in Games 1 and 2, Bonner totaled 18 points, to go with six rebounds, five assists and two steals.
“She’s such a respected presence in our locker room,” Miller said of Bonner, who won two WNBA titles with the Phoenix Mercury. “It’s no secret that she has a championship pedigree. We have a group that really admires him. When she plays with energy and offensive efficiency, it gives so much confidence to the rest of our team.
Meanwhile, Thomas was dominant in all facets of the game; in addition to her triple-double, she had two interceptions and a block. His play energized his teammates – but they said Thomas could play even better, and will have to if Connecticut is to win on Sunday and force a Game 5 tiebreaker.
“She did well tonight,” Bonner said, giving Thomas a sly look. “We need her to be awesome though.”
A’ja Wilson scored 19 goals and was virtually unstoppable no matter how many defenders Connecticut sent her, but the Sun dominated the paint, beating the Aces 64-26. Jonquel Jones, the 2021 MVP, had 20 points.
Says Miller: “We did a lot of things better, harder and more determined – with more confidence, more pace and more physicality.”
Jones said retired WNBA great Lisa Leslie, one of the most dominant centers in women’s basketball history, once told her that to win a WNBA championship, teams had to score at inside. Jones took the advice to heart.
“It’s the MO of the playoffs, isn’t it? The team that wins the paint wins the game,” Jones said.
Jackie Young led the Aces with 22 and Kelsey Plum added 17. The Connecticut bench also beat Vegas 26-5. The Sun set a playoff record with 19 assists in the first half and finished with 32 of 43 baskets made.
All-WNBA teams revealed
Wilson, the 2022 MVP, along with Las Vegas Plum guard, Seattle forward Breanna Stewart, Chicago forward Candace Parker and Phoenix guard Skylar Diggins-Smith were named to the All-WNBA First Team on Thursday. , each earning a bonus of $10,300. Connecticut’s Thomas and Jones, along with New York guard Sabrina Ionesco, Los Angeles forward Nneka Ogwumike and Minnesota center Sylvia Fowels were the second team, each earning a $5,150 bonus. Wilson and Stewart were both selected unanimously.