For the Connecticut Sun, there was nothing on the line in Wednesday night’s WNBA game with the Phoenix Mercury. The Sun clinched a spot in next week’s WNBA playoffs and with two regular season games left, Connecticut is locked into the single-elimination portion of the playoffs.
Phoenix came into the game with just seven healthy players but a hunger to play better than they did in Monday’s 15-point loss to the Sun – a game that saw Connecticut lead from start to finish.
The two teams treated the fans that viewed the game online on the WNBA’s Facebook feed with an outstanding game of tired athletes who continued to battle to the final second of regulation and into overtime.
Phoenix’s Skylar Diggins-Smith hit a 35-foot shot just past half court with no time remaining to send the game into overtime where the Mercury outlasted Connecticut, 100-95 to secure their seventh win in the last eight games at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida.
The Sun (10-11) erased a 22-point deficit to take the lead and were 3.4 seconds away from their eleventh win of the season before Diggins-Smith hit her game-tying shot at the buzzer.
“It was exhausting,” Diggins-Smith said. “(Connecticut) is better than their record shows. They have great players. They have great post (players in the lane) and they are very aggressive defensively.”
And Diggins-Smith was able to get a step on Connecticut’s Alyssa Thomas in the final seconds when the ball was inbounded to Diggins-Smith with 3.4 seconds left in regulation. It was enough space to launch the game-tying shot.
“My (philosophy) is you either need to foul or stay between them and the basket and we weren’t able to get it done,” Sun head coach and general manager Curt Miller said.
Connecticut also missed several shots in the lane that bounced off the rim. But it wasn’t for a lack of effort. The Sun pulled down a team record 51 rebounds in the game. They played with starting guards Jasmine Thomas (plantar fascitis) and Briann January (dislocated finger) not available due to injuries.
And they trailed by as many as 22 points before holding Phoenix to just 10 points in the third quarter and taking the lead.
“I am proud of their fight,” Miller said. “I didn’t think we were competitive at the beginning of the game. We weren’t ready to compete with that team and we dug ourselves a big hole.”
Miller said there were some frank discussions in the locker room at halftime but declined to share what was said amongst the team. “We’ll keep it in house,” he said.
“You said the competitiveness of this group in the third quarter,” Miller said. “They were not happy how they competed in the first half.”
“They came out very aggressive in the third quarter and it was a dogfight from than point on,” Diggins-Smith said.
DeWanna Bonner led the Sun with 32 points and 10 rebounds while Alyssa Thomas had 18 points, 17 rebounds and a team-leading five assists. Natisha Hiedeman had a season-high 16 points and drained three 3-point goals – all in the explosive third quarter when the Sun outscored Phoenix, 33-10.
Phoenix (13-8) was led by Diggins-Smith 33 points while Diana Taurasi had 28 points and five 3-point goals. Brianna Turner had 10 points while pulled down a career-high 21 rebounds, including 14 defensive caroms.
Connecticut has one regular season game remaining on Friday night against Atlanta before opening the WNBA playoffs on Tuesday, Sept. 15 in the first round – a single-elimination contest against an opponent to be determined.
The Sun led by as many as five points in the fourth quarter, 77-72, with 5:05 remaining when Kalia Charles found Jones under the basket for an easy two points.
Phoenix had a one-point lead with 1:13 remaining before Bonner drove to the basket, was fouled and hit a foul shot with 57.3 seconds left for an 84-82 lead. The Mercury tied the game at 84-84 when Kia Vaughn slipped behind the defense and got an easy feed in the lane with 52 seconds left.
There were a few plays in the fourth quarter when assignments were missed by the Sun resulting in wide-open baskets by the Mercury.
Connecticut had a chance to take the lead but the Sun missed two shots (Bonner, Jones) in the lane. But they pulled down three offensive rebounds to keep possession of the ball, including a rebound by Alyssa Thomas with 18.5 seconds remaining.
But on the inbounds play, Charles made her only turnover of the game to Shey Peddy.
Phoenix capitalized when Diggins-Smith drove to the basket with 13.8 seconds remaining to give the Mercury a two-point lead, 86-84. But Bonner drained a three-point shot with 6.5 seconds left to give Connecticut an 87-86 edge.
After Bonner’s defense forced a Taurasi turnover, Bonner was fouled with 3.4 second left. She hit both foul shots for an 89-86 lead. Bonner sank 12 of 13 free throws in the game. Diggins-Smith sent the game in OT with her shot.
In overtime, the game was tied at 91-91 when Taurasi drained a three-point shot with 1:46 left and then Diggins added a long jumper with 55.3 seconds left for a 96-91 lead.