UNCASVILLE, Conn., October 8 – The Connecticut Sun will play for a WNBA championship on Thursday night.
The Sun led by as many as 18 points in the first half and saw the visiting Washington Mystics erase that lead in the third quarter. But Connecticut came from behind to beat the Mystics, 90-86 on Tuesday night to even the best-of-5 WNBA championship series at 2-2.
The Sun can win their first-ever WNBA championship with a win over the Mystics on Thursday night in Washington, D.C. The game begins at 8 p.m. on ESPN2.
Washington missed five shots in the final two minutes. Connecticut’s Shekinna Stricklen hit a 26-foot three-point shot off a nice assist from Jonquel Jones with 2:22 remaining to snap a tie and give Connecticut an 87-84 lead. Washington’s Natasha Cloud hit a driving layup with 2:10 remaining to cut the lead to one but that would the final shot that the Mystics made.
The Sun’s Jasmine Thomas hit two free throws with 18.4 seconds left to extend the lead to 89-86 before Cloud missed from 10-feet on a drive into the lane with 12 seconds left. Connecticut’s Alyssa Thomas pulled down the rebound and was fouled. She sank one of two free throws to extend the lead to four, 90-86.
“I thought we just stayed aggressive,” Connecticut guard Courtney Williams said. “My teammates definitely challenged me personally and told me that regardless of what my offense is, I’ve still got to get after it on defense. So I think just keeping that mentality and knowing like, we’ve just got to play hard, I mean, our back was against the wall, so we had to get to it.”
Jones led the Sun with 18 points but she pulled down 13 rebounds – 11 on the defensive glass. Alyssa Thomas had 17 points and a game-high 11 assists — which tied a WNBA finals record. Williams scored 16 points, Stricklen had 15 points and Jasmine Thomas scored 14 points.
Washington’s Aerial Powers came off the bench to lead the Mystics with 15 points while Emma Meesseman had another outstanding night off the bench with 12 points. Cloud had 13 points.
League MVP Elena Delle Donne still has a sore back but it is feeling better. Instead of standing behind the bench when she wasn’t on the floor, she sat and she was banging in the low post, fighting Jones for rebounds and position. Delle Donne scored 11 points and had five rebounds.
Connecticut was outstanding out of the gate. They raced out to early leads of 9-3 hitting their first four shots of the game. They had leads of 25-10 and 30-12 in the first quarter. The Sun led by 16 points, 56-40, at halftime.
“I think in (game three), we were slacking on defense,” Connecticut’s Alyssa Thomas said. “We know if we can get stops and secure rebounds that we’re able to get out and run. In that first quarter, I don’t know if we ran a single play. I think it was all transition (baskets).”
But in the third quarter, the Mystics outscored the Sun, 28-12 behind seven from Kristi Toliver and six points from Meesseman. After three quarters, it was all tied at 68-68.
“Both teams in the fourth quarter were making big shots. We would make a three, they’d answer with a three,” Sun coach Curt Miller said. “Ultimately we made a few more plays down the stretch, got to the foul line tonight more than they did. Alyssa Thomas was the best foul shooter in the game.”
Alyssa Thomas hit 9-of-10 free throws in the game as the Sun drained 23-of-26 from the charity stripe.
The Mystics, trying to win their first WNBA championship, built a seven-point lead when Meesseman hit a three-point shots with 6:51 left in the game, 77-72.
But the Sun didn’t back down. Jasmine Thomas hit one of two free throws and on Washington’s next possession, Alyssa Thomas came down with the rebound and led the fast break downcourt. She found Jones in the lane for two points. After Delle Donne missed a 10-foot shot, a strong second effort gave the Sun the ball.
Battling down low, Alyssa Thomas tipped the ball out to Jasmine Thomas, who took off on a fast break of her own She drove to the basket and scored with 5:35 remaining to tie the game at 77-77.
Cloud’s finger roll layup gave the Mystics a two-point lead before Jones tied it at 79-79 on a cutting basket with 4:17 remaining. Powers hit a shot from 16-feet to give Washington a 81-79 edge but Alyssa Thomas sank a pair of free throws with 3:41 to go.
Jasmine Thomas hit a three-point shot with 3:09 left off a dish from Alyssa Thomas to give the Sun an 87-84 lead but the Mystics came back with Meesseman responding with a three-point shot of her own with 2:44 left.
“It’s been hard in this series,” Washington coach Mike Thibault said. “Whoever digs themselves a hole, every team has come back in this series, both teams have come back. But it’s hard when you’re looking at the deficit we were looking at. I think it was 18 at one point, and the fact that we were ahead says a lot of good things, but then our execution once we got the lead was not great.”
Miller was pleased that Jones was more involved in the action. She had just 10 shots from the floor, sinking six. But she was in double digits in rebounds and got more touches on the ball – even if she didn’t put up a shot in a possession.
The Sun outrebounded the Mystics, 39-29 and had 13 second-chance points while the Mystics had just three.
“We went stretches without her touching it, which was frustrating, but her activity never stopped,” he said. “I thought she was really active around the glass, even when she wasn’t touching. I thought she screened better tonight, and then we got her touches when we needed in the fourth quarter to get a rim run after the amount of minutes that she plays, and how much physicality she has to handle and go through. She’s still so important. It’s not always shot attempts. It’s being able to get her in actions.”
NOTES: The Sun led 32-17 after one quarter – the first 30-point quarter in team history. The Sun tied a franchise record for most points in a half with 56 at halftime. The Sun scored 56 in the first half against the Mystics in game two of this series. … Thomas finished with 11 assists, which tied a WNBA finals record that has been done seven times. The most recent was Minnesota’s Maya Moore with seven assists vs. Los Angeles in 2016. Thomas had seven assists in the first quarter, which was a new WNBA finals record, breaking the record of six set by Phoenix Diana Taurasi against Chicago in 2014.
2019 WNBA championship
Best of 5
Sunday, September 29
Game 1: Washington 95, Connecticut 86,
Tuesday, October 1
Game 2: Connecticut 99, Washington 87
Sunday, October 6
Game 3: Washington 94, Connecticut 81
Tuesday, October 8
Game 4: Connecticut 90, Washington 86, series tied 2-2
Thursday, October 10
Game 5: Connecticut at Washington, 8 p.m., ESPN2