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With a monster game, Jonquel Jones helps Sun tie WNBA finals at 1-1

Connecticut’s Jonquel Jones took over Tuesday night in game two of the WNBA championship series against the Washington Mystics.

Jones had a career-high 32 points on 13-of-24 shooting but did her most effective work on the backboard with a playoff-high 18 rebounds as the Sun tied up the WNBA finals with a 99-87 win over short-handed Mystics at soldout Entertainment Sports Arena.

The best-of-5 series is tied at 1-1 with game 3 and 4 set to be played in Connecticut at the Mohegan Sun Arena on Sunday and next Tuesday.

The Mystics were playing without league MVP Elena Delle Donne, who played just 3:23 before retiring to the locker room with back spasms.

The 6-foot-5 Delle Donne controlled the backboards in game one with 10 rebounds as the Mystics outrebounded the Sun, 28-27. Without Delle Donne to slow her down, Jones dominated inside. She made three blocks. She pulled down a WNBA finals record nine offensive rebounds to help the Sun earn a commanding 41-27 edge rebounding the basketball.

The Sun just had a two-point lead when Delle Donne left the game for good with 6:32 left in the first quarter. Connecticut closed out the quarter with a 20-10 run to put the Sun in command of the contest.

Remember that in game one, it was Washington with a 12-0 surge to close out the first half that was too much for the Sun to overcome against a quality opponent in the WNBA finals.

Alyssa Thomas had three straight baskets for Connecticut in the 20-10 game two rally while Jones and Williams each drained three-point shots.

Once again, Thomas led the charge, driving into the heart of the Mystics defense time and time again. Thomas finished with 21 points and a playoff-high 12 rebounds along with six assists. For the second straight game in the finals, Thomas played 40 minutes. Courtney Williams had 22 points and six assists in game 2.

“We fed off their confidence and belief to make some subtle adjustments that worked for us tonight,” Sun coach Curt Miller said. “Ultimately, at the offensive end, playing through J.J. [Jonquel Jones] and a concerted effort to play through J.J. and while still putting Courtney [Williams] and Alyssa Thomas in action really allowed us to have a really efficient and productive offensive night.”

Stunned by the injury and loss to Delle Donne, it took the Mystics a while to settle down and recover. Trailing by as many as 14 points, the Mystics rallied to tie the game at 76-76 with 8:15 remaining thanks to a 14-5 surge.

That’s when Sun coach Curt Miller brought Jones back off the bench. Jones had picked up three fouls. But the Sun and Jones were determined to get the 6-foot-5 veteran from Maryland back into the flow of the game.

On her first offensive possession, she grabbed a rebound and put it back in for a two-point lead. Alyssa Thomas scored inside to extend the lead to four. On Connecticut’s next possession, Jones had two offensive rebounds in the possession before kicking it back out to Williams, who scored to give the Sun a six-point lead, 82-76.

The Mystics cut it to three on a basket from Natasha Cloud with 3:20 left in the game, 3:20. But Williams drained a three-point shot from the corner from Thomas to extend the lead to six. On Connecticut’s next possession, it was Jones for three points off an inbounds pass from Jasmine Thomas to end the lead to six with 2:17 remaining.

Mystics coach Mike Thibault said the loss to Delle Donne was huge but it wasn’t the only factor in the loss. “When you give up 90 points to their starters, 56 points in the paint and 17 offensive boards for 28 points, that’s a tough way to try to win a game,” he said. “Give them credit; Jonquel was great. But we didn’t control really any of those three players that scored. But the rebounding was a huge concern.”

Delle Donne will be evaluated on Thursday.

“She’s going to get an MRI tomorrow on her back. It didn’t look good, so we’ll see. We’ll see what the MRI says and treatment tomorrow. The only good thing, I didn’t look forward to having four days between games, but right now that looks like a benefit that we didn’t have at the start of the series,” he said. “We’ll see. But I have no idea right now, and we won’t have anything probably for a couple days until we see what the tests show and what treatment looks like.

“But it wasn’t good. On the very first layup that she went up for, it grabbed on her, and she came down and just immediately said, “Give me a sub.”

Jones had no offensive rebounds in game one. In game two, she had a WNBA Finals record nine offensive rebounds.

“Elena herself is one of the better defensive rebounders in the league. You’re not going to hold Jonquel off the whole series but she got zero in that game. If you watch the tape, Elena was almost textbook in her blockouts on Jonquel,” Thibault said. “Tonight I thought we were trying to rebound with our head under the rim, and you don’t get very many defensive rebounds that way. If you’re pushed under and you’re standing, you’re basically having to reach behind you to rebound. That’s not a good position to be in.”

Jones didn’t say a lot about the Delle Donne injury. “We were locked in, so we just kept playing, honestly and truly,” she said. “We were trying to win the game, so we weren’t really focused on that, to be honest with you.”

Jones had eight shots in game one. In game two, she got up 24 shots from the floor, converting on 13.

“I just want to keep my confidence. I feel like people think it dwindles, but it doesn’t, and I believe in myself, and I know (my teammates) believe in me,” she said.

Williams added, “ I felt like I could pull the ball from half court and (Jones) was going to look out for me and get the rebound. That’s huge when she has that mindset to go get every ball, every rebound. So that was huge for us.”

The Sun tied a franchise record with 29 points in the first quarter. They had new team record with 56 points at halftime.

Thibault implored his team at halftime to play defense.

“We showed them a clip, there was a sequence, loose ball in front of (the Connecticut) bench, they (Sun players) hustled for it,” Thibault said. “Alyssa Thomas dove and saved it from going out of bounds, they picked the ball up off the floor and Jasmine [Thomas] drove with a few seconds on the shot clock basically uncontested down the lane. That sort of thing that we talked about at halftime, is that it doesn’t matter who’s out there right now, do you want to make a defensive effort?”

Washington held the Sun to 17 points in the third quarter to get back into the ballgame.

“At the end, Jonquel Jones came in and made a difference when the game was close,” Thibault said.

With 22 points, Williams scored more than 20 points for the fourth time in five games in the playoffs. For Thomas, it was her third game with more than 20 points in this year’s playoffs and the fourth of her career.

The Mystics received a WNBA playoff record 52 points off the bench. Forward Emma Meesseman (23 points), forward Tianna Hawkins (16), forward Aerial Powers (11) and guard Shatori Walker-Kimbrough (2) combined to top the previous high of 50 set by the Detroit Shock in 2007.

Meesseman scored 23 points on 10-of-17 shooting from the floor and grabbed eight rebounds off the bench, her fourth game this postseason scoring more than 20 points. Hawkins scored 16 points, tying career playoff highs in field goals made (6) and 3-point field goals made (3).

2019 WNBA championship
Best of 5
Sunday, September 29
Game 1: Washington 95, Connecticut 86,
Tuesday, October 1
Game 2: Connecticut 99, Washington 87, series tied 1-1
Sunday, October 6
Game 3: Washington at Connecticut, 3:30 p.m., ABC
Tuesday, October 8
Game 4: Washington at Connecticut, 8 p.m., ESPN2
Thursday, October 10
Game 5: Connecticut at Washington, 8 p.m., if necessary, ESPN2

Gerry deSimas, Jr., is the editor and founder of The Collinsville Press. He is an award-winning writer and has been covering sports in Connecticut and New England for more than 40 years. He was inducted into the New England High School Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2018.

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