In 1970 with a muscle tear in his right thigh, Willis Reed hobbled out onto the court for Game 7 of the NBA finals for the New York Knicks hit a pair of jump shots against the Los Angeles Lakers and inspired the Knicks to win the championship.
In 2004, Boston Red Sox hurler Curt Schilling was dominant in game 6 of the American League Championship Series against the hated New York Yankees pitching with his loose ankle tendon sutured into his skin. Schilling helped the Sox win game 6 and eventually win their first World Series in 86 years.
Last night, Connecticut forward Alyssa Thomas was on the floor for the Connecticut Sun for game three of the WNBA semifinals against the Las Vegas Aces a little more than 48 hours after she was lying on the same floor in agony with a right shoulder injury that some have reported as a dislocated shoulder.
“I just play whether I am in pain or not,” Thomas said before the series began.
Thomas was there on the floor at the opening tip. He didn’t raise her heavily-taped right shoulder much until the ball was thrown up. And she was off – making shots, driving to the basket, pulling down rebounds and igniting the fast break.
Thomas scored eight of Connecticut’s final 12 points as the Sun closed out the game with a 12-2 run to beat the Las Vegas Aces Thursday night, 77-68, in the pivotal game three of the WNBA semifinals at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. The win gives Connecticut a 2-1 lead in the best-of-5 series. The Sun can earn a spot in the WNBA finals for the second straight year with a win on Sunday against the Aces.
A day ago, Thomas was listed as out on the injury report. On Thursday, she was upgraded to questionable. By game time, there was no doubt.
Sun head coach and general manager Curt Miller asked Thomas how she felt just prior to tipoff. “I’m good,” she said. And that was it.
Thomas finished with a game-high 23 points, pulled down 12 rebounds, had four assists and two steals to lead the Sun (14-13). Brionna Jones was outstanding in the low post with 15 points and 10 rebounds, scoring several baskets after pulling down offensive rebounds. She had two steals in the final 2:52 of the game.
DeWanna Bonner had 12 points and 10 rebounds while Jasmine Thomas added 10 points and six assists.
Las Vegas, as they have been throughout this series, was led by league MVP A’ja Wilson with 20 points and 12 rebounds. Angel McCoughtry had 14 points but the Aces scored just one field goal in the final 3:48 of the game.
The Aces had a seven-point lead with 5:33 left in the game but Connecticut finished the game with a 20-4 run to secure the win.
Alyssa Thomas was the catalyst. “She is our engine. She is Connecticut. This is her home. This is her team,” Bonner said.
Las Vegas led by three with 3:48 remaining before Jones caught a pass in the low post from January and scored to cut the lead to one, 66-65. About 30 seconds later, it was Alyssa Thomas with a spin move past Las Vegas’ Dearica Hamby to get to the basket and score for a 67-66 lead for the Sun.
“She only knows how to play one way (hard),” Miller said of Alyssa Thomas. “We just feed off her. We feed off her tenacity. We feed off her competitiveness. She was demanding we play harder. She was challenging her teammates. It is amazing how physical she is with those shoulders.”
For years, she has been playing with tore labrum in both of her shoulders. She injured her hand earlier in the season. A MRI on Wednesday showed there was no additional damage to her shoulder from the dislocation.
Wilson sank a pair of foul shots with 2:20 remaining to put Las Vegas up by one, 68-67 but Alyssa Thomas responded with a one-handed shot in the lane to put the Sun ahead for good.
After Wilson missed in the lane, Bonner was fouled getting the rebound. Bonner sank two free throws to push the lead to three, 71-68. With 1:01 remaining, Briann January took the punishment when Las Vegas’ Jackie Young drove into her and was assessed with a charging foul and an Ace turnover.
Alyssa Thomas responded with a basket in the lane for a 75-68 lead with 49 seconds left in the game. Four seconds later, Thomas stole a pass and drove to the basket for another two points and a 77-68 advantage with 45.1 seconds to go.
“She is as competitive a person as I have seen,” Miller said. “You would have to amputate her shoulder and arm to keep her out of the game. She spearheaded our defense. She guarded a lot of people and spearheaded what we had to accomplish.”
Afterwards, Alyssa Thomas didn’t want to hear about her heroic effort after getting hurt on Tuesday. One writer called it legendary.
“That’s not what it is about for me,” she said. “It’s about my team. It’s about this season and we’re trying to accomplish. I’m a tough person. I can handle it. I know what I am capable of. I just want to be out there fighting with my team.”
The Sun led by six at halftime and extended their lead to eight early in the third quarter only to see Las Vegas get back into the game with a 9-2 run. Connecticut had a rough night shooting but didn’t lose faith.
“We didn’t hang our heads,” Miller said. “We played defense and continued to rebound. Defense and rebounding can win you games even when you don’t shoot very well.”
NOTES: Connecticut had just four turnovers in the game while forcing 14 Ace turnovers. The Sun are 12-1 when they have 11 or fewer turnovers this season. … Connecticut had 11 steals from six different players, led by Alyssa Thomas with three. Jones, January and Jasmine Thomas had two each … The Sun outscored Las Vegas in the paint, 52-20. … Aces coach Bill Laimbeer wasn’t surprised that Thomas played. “It happens all the time with her. (The shoulder) pops out and it hurts for a while and you go play. We knew she would play.” …. The Sun had four turnovers, which tied a WNBA playoff record for fewest in a single game. Connecticut had four turnovers in the 2005 Eastern Conference semifinals.
PARKER HONORED: Los Angeles Sparks forward/center Candace Parker has been named the 2020 WNBA Defensive Player of the Year, the WNBA announced on Thursday. This is the first WNBA Defensive Player of the Year Award for Parker, who is in her 13th WNBA season.
Parker received 16 votes from a national panel of 47 sportswriters and broadcasters. Seattle Storm forward Alysha Clark finished in second place with 11 votes and Connecticut Sun forward Alyssa Thomas finished in third place with 10 votes.
In the 2020 regular season, Parker averaged a WNBA-high 8.0 defensive rebounds, 1.23 blocked shots (eighth in the WNBA) and 1.18 steals in 22 games.
Behind Parker, the Sparks ranked third in the WNBA in defensive rating, allowing 98.8 points allowed per 100 possessions. The 6-4 Parker helped Los Angeles hold opponents to 31.3 points per game in the paint, the second fewest in the WNBA.
2020 Defensive Player of the Year voting: Candace Parker, Los Angeles 16; Alysha Clark, Seattle 11; Alyssa Thomas, Connecticut 10, Brianna Turner, Phoenix 4; Breanna Steward, Seattle 3, Napheesa Collier, Minnesota 2, Natasha Howard, Seattle 1
Connecticut vs. Las Vegas
Sunday, September 20
Connecticut 87, Las Vegas 62
Tuesday, September 22
Las Vegas 83, Connecticut 75, series tied 1-1
Thursday, September 24
Connecticut 77, Las Vegas 68, Sun lead series, 2-1
Sunday, September 27
Game 4: Connecticut vs. Las Vegas, 1 p.m.