All season, the Connecticut Sun have played with a chip on their shoulder talking about the lack of respect they have received from the media, some coaches and players within the league.
On Sunday, they get their first opportunity to prove what they can do on the WNBA’s largest stage – the WNBA finals. The Sun will face the top seeded Washington Mystics on Sunday at 3 p.m. (ESPN) in game one of the best-of-five championship series in Washington, D.C.
It is the Sun’s first appearance in the WNBA championship series since 2005. The Mystics are playing in the finals for the second straight season. The Mystics fell to Seattle a year ago, 3-0.
“No one still has picked us to win. It’s okay though. This is our motivation right now and we still feel like we have a lot to prove,” said Connecticut’s Jonquel Jones.
The series pits the top two teams in the WNBA this season. The Mystics, led by WNBA MVP Elena Delle Donne (19.5 ppg), had the best record in the league at 26-8. The Sun finished second in the league at 23-11 and swept the Los Angeles Sparks in the semifinals, 3-0, holding the Sparks to 66.3 points a game.
“I think there is a lot of confidence within our group and they’re proud of their last three seasons, regular season success, and they believe that they have clearly earned the right to be here,” Sun coach Curt Miller said. “At the same time, we’re still the big underdogs on paper in this series. Washington, deservedly so, had a record-breaking season offensively that the league has never seen. They have the best player in the league (Delle Donne) and you can argue that they have the deepest team. We’re embracing that underdog role. Not a lot of people think we can pull this upset.”
The Sun have used a balanced approach to get to the finals.
“We are at our best when we are sharing and distributing the ball,” Miller said. “We’re better when we have balance. You just can’t load up on one person.”
Jones led the Sun in both scoring (14.6 ppg) and rebounding (9.7 rpg) during the regular season while offensive sparkplug Courtney Williams added 13.2 points per game.
But every Sun player has had a big game along the way. Jones tied a season-high with 27 points and 13 rebounds in the game two win over the Los Angeles Sparks in the semifinals. She also had 27 points and 11 rebounds in a 100-94 win over Chicago in July and a 16 points and 22 rebounds in a win over the Sparks in June.
Thomas averaged 11.6 points and 7.8 rebounds while playing with a torn labrum in both of her shoulders. 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. In game 1 of the semifinals against Los Angeles, she played all 40 minutes with 22 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and four steals.
Williams had 25 points and six assists in the game two win over the Sparks along with 17 points and a career-high 13 rebounds in the game 3 victory over Los Angeles to clinch the series.
Point guard Jasmine Thomas averaged 11.1 points per game in the regular season but had some big games including a season-high 29 points in the game three win over Los Angeles along with 18 points in regular season victories over Phoenix and Chicago. Shekinna Stricklen averaged 9.0 points per game and has been a deadly three-point shooter, scoring 24 against Seattle with five 3-point shots and 24 against Atlanta with seven 3-point shots.
“Our team is looked at differently because we play team basketball,” Jones said. “Sometimes the respect is lacking. I don’t think it is appreciated enough around the league that we move the ball around and everyone touches it.”
Miller added, “I think the chip helps us being the underdog. I think the chip that they feel a little bit slighted is only going to burn and help us. But when the ball is tipped up it’s no longer that, but who will execute better and make better adjustments. Ultimately, at the end of the day, it’s about who plays better.”
NOTES: Alyssa Thomas addressed the issue of her two injured shoulders and tried to minimize the heroic nature of some stories being written about her.
“I think people don’t realize that I’ve been dealing with this for years,” she said. “This is not something that just popped up overnight. You know it is what it is. I just ice as much as possible and do rehab to keep me strong. At this point, I’ve been playing like this for years so I just deal with it.
“It just keeps happening in both shoulders and there is nothing I can do. I just try to keep them as strong as possible,” she said.
The all-time leading in coaching victories for the Mystics and Sun is veteran WNBA coach Mike Thibault, who took the Sun to the WNBA finals in 2004 and 2005.
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