UNCASVILLE, September 26 – There is an Avengers movie where one of the main characters, Captain America, inevitably gets into a fight with a villain. They battle and Captain America is sent sprawling to the floor on multiple occasions. But each time, he pops right back up and declares, “I can do this all day.”
And the battle continues until Captain America eventually prevails – because, well, it is the movies.
The Connecticut Sun have their own version of Captain America. They call her the engine because she makes the team go. She is sixth-year forward Alyssa Thomas, the 6-foot-2 forward from Maryland.
In this year’s WNBA playoffs, Thomas has just played and played and played – with two injured shoulders. Thomas never left the floor, playing 40 minutes in Connecticut’s game 1 victory over the Los Angeles Sparks in the semifinals with 22 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and four steals.
In game two, she played 34 minutes, scoring 12 points, pulling down 10 rebounds while dishing out another four assists. That’s 74 out of 80 minutes in the first two games of the semifinals.
“When I think I am tired, I find something else,” she said.
“I am full of energy,” Thomas said with a sly smile in the Connecticut locker room after the Sun beat Los Angeles in the opener of the semifinals. “I’ll play another 40 minutes. I’m ready. I want to win a championship.”
Thomas and her Connecticut Sun teammates will have the opportunity to bring home a WNBA championship beginning on Sunday afternoon when Connecticut travels to Washington to take on the Mystics in game one of the best-of-5 championship series.
Washington is returning to the WNBA finals after losing to Seattle a year ago when current WNBA MVP Elena Delle Donne was limping around on a badly sprained knee. Now, she is healthy and ready to go to face the Sun, who are making their first WNBA finals appearance in 14 years – 2005.
Thomas is playing with her own injuries and she has been all season. She has torn labrum in both of her shoulders. She has a unique shot that sometimes looks like a shot put push. But she has made more than 50 percent of her shots from the floor this year.
“After some games, (her shoulders) are sore,” she said. “You just push through. It is what it is.”
She has built up scar tissue in her shoulders and sometimes snaps the scar tissue. Surgery would repair the damage but Thomas isn’t interested at this time in seven months off to heal and rehabilitate her shoulders.
“I think her arms would have to be falling off for her not to play,” Connecticut center Jonquel Jones said. “I don’t think we’ve ever doubted that she was going to be out there.”
A year ago, Thomas missed 10 games with a shoulder injury but hasn’t missed a game this season for Connecticut.
She has done it all for the Sun, averaging 11.6 points and 7.8 rebounds per game. She had a career-high 28 points on 12-of-16 shooting against Dallas in June along with game-high 27 points on 11-of-18 shooting and 12 rebounds in a win over Las Vegas in late August.
Against Las Vegas, Thomas played all 40 minutes. Frequently playing against Las Vegas’ big and strong 6-foot-8 Liz Cambage, Thomas scored 11 points in a span of 2:06 in the third quarter when the Sun erased an 11-point deficit in an 89-85 victory. With backup guards Rachel Banham, Layshia Clarendon and Natisha Hiedeman unavailable due to injuries, the 6-foot-2 Thomas also played some point guard in the second half.
“Whatever I can do to give (starting point guard Jasmine Thomas) a break,” Thomas said in a business-as-usual manner. “I wasn’t always this tall. I was a late bloomer. I worked on my guard skills (when I was younger).”
She had team-leading 66 steals, which was third in the WNBA, which frequently leads to fast breaks. Thomas has no hesitation about bringing the ball upcourt. Her 105 assists was third on the team behind Courtney Williams and Jasmine Thomas.
“For a long, long time (Los Angeles) Candace Parker has been the best facilitating power forward in the league,” Sun coach Curt Miller said. “The emergence of Alyssa over the last couple of years fuels the argument that she is the new way of power forward facilitating. (In the Los Angeles series), fans got to enjoy two of the most versatile power forwards in the league with their passing ability and their facilitating ability.”
In game one against Los Angeles, Thomas scored 13 of Connecticut’s first 15 points. “Being that I like to get to the rim, I just took it upon myself to really attack,” she said. “I was feeling good and things were rolling for me and my teammates just kept giving me the ball.
“I love when people try to get into me. It’s my type of game. I’m a physical player. I will match the physicality,” Thomas said.
“She plays hard every minute that she’s on the court,” Los Angeles coach Derek Fisher said. “So I think that’s what makes her difficult to play against. She doesn’t really take many possessions off. She’s always coming at you on the offensive end; whether she has the ball or she’s crashing the glass. And then you know then defensively she’s also in the action; rebounding, trapping, pick and rolls.”
Now, Thomas and the Sun will challenge the Mystics with a championship in the line. For the winner, it will be their first WNBA pennant. Thomas is itching for the challenge.
“I don’t care who is front of me or how tall you are,” Thomas said. “I will find a find away and if you block my shot I am coming right back at you.”
She can do this all day.
2019 WNBA championship
Best of 5
Sunday, September 29
Game 1: Connecticut at Washington, 3 p.m., ESPN
Tuesday, October 1
Game 2: Connecticut at Washington, 8 p.m., ESPN
Sunday, October 6
Game 3: Washington at Connecticut, 3:30 p.m., ABC
Tuesday, October 8
Game 4: Washington at Connecticut, 8 p.m., if necessary, ESPN2
Thursday, October 10
Game 5: Connecticut at Washington, 8 p.m., if necessary, ESPN2