Connecticut Sun head coach and general manager Curt Miller calls a lot of players from the sideline for his team to run on offense. But in Sunday’s game one of the WNBA semifinals, Miller called fewer plays than usual.
He stepped back and enjoyed the show.
Veteran guard Jasmine Thomas, who has been battling plantar fasciitis (sharp pain in the heel of your foot) for weeks had a career-high 31 points to lead the Connecticut Sun to a stunning 87-62 win over the top-seeded Las Vegas Aces in game one of their best-of-5 WNBA semifinal Sunday at the IMG Academy in Bradeton, Florida.
The Aces, who had shared the best record in the league with Seattle at 18-4, had easily handled the Sun in their two previous games in this COVID-19 pandemic season.
But Connecticut (13-12) played stifling defense, holding Las Vegas to season lows for points in a quarter (10) and one half (25). Meanwhile, Thomas had as many points (31) as the Aces with 3:53 remaining in the third quarter.
Thomas was just spectacular, hitting 13 of 18 shots from the field including 3-of-6 from long distance. But she didn’t do it alone. Alyssa Thomas was her usual energetic self with 18 points, six rebounds and five steals. DeWanna Bonner had a tough shooting night but she scored eight points and pulled down eight rebounds.
Natisha Hiedeman scored 14 points off the bench while rookie Beatrice Mompremier and Kalia Charles made crucial contributions. Mompremier, the 6-foot-4 rookie from Miami, played a career-high 22 minutes with Brionna Jones getting into early foul trouble. Mompremier frequently went head-to-head with league MVP A’ja Wilson and played well, coming with some six rebounds, three blocked shots and four points. Charles had seven rebounds.
Wilson had 19 points to lead the Aces but got little help. “We got beat and we got beat soundly,” Aces coach Bill Laimbeer said. “We didn’t move. We didn’t do anything at all. We didn’t shoot well and that frustration carried over into our defense and (Connecticut) hammered us.”
The 24-point win was two points shy of Connecticut’s most lopsided playoff win in team history. The Sun led by as many as 30 points in the game.
“You take this win, your proud of it, and then let it go at the end of the day,” Jasmine Thomas said. “We’ll have to beat ready to make adjustments, focus and play just as hard in the next game.”
Game two in the series is Tuesday night beginning at 7 p.m. on ESPN2.
“Credit to our players, their tenacity, their toughness,” Miller said. “Vegas can really bully you and play excellent basketball. Everything tonight was energy and tenacity. We were locked in as a group to stay cohesive defensively.”
In the closing seconds of the first quarter, there was Alyssa Thomas furiously guarding Las Vegas’ Dearica Hamby, who tried twice to shake Alyssa Thomas but she couldn’t do it. When Hamby drove to the basket, Thomas was there with the deflection to cause a turnover.
“They want to get into the paint,” Alyssa Thomas said of Las Vegas’ goals on offense. “For us, it was about congestion (in the lane), making shots tough for them and not letting them get second chance opportunities.”
Connecticut held Las Vegas to a season-low 10 points in the first quarter and held a 14-10 lead with eight points from Jasmine Thomas.
Wilson scored in the lane with 6:12 remaining in the first half to cut the Sun lead to two, 20-18. It was as close as Las Vegas would get the remainder of the game.
Jasmine Thomas scored on three consecutive possessions for Connecticut. She hit a jump shot off an assist from Bonner. Thirty seconds later, Bonner ripped down an offensive rebound and kicked the ball back out to Jasmine Thomas, who drained a three-point shot.
With 4:47 left, Jasmine Thomas was fouled driving to the basket. She hit two free throws to swell the lead to nine, 29-20.
Las Vegas cut the lead to six but again it was Jasmine Thomas scoring on three consecutive possessions for the Sun. She scored on the baseline with 2:21 left, hit a jumper with 1:48 left and drained a three-point shot after a nice cross-court pass from Bonner on the run with 1:28 remaining for a 13-point Connecticut lead, 36-23.
Jasmine Thomas had 22 points at halftime on 9-of-12 shooting from the floor – the most points in the first half in a WNBA playoffs since 2011 when Angel McCoughtry, then with Atlanta, scored 24.
“We talked about in (our scouting review) about what opportunities would be open for me,” Jasmine Thomas said. “I knew the pullup jumper would there. I shot the first few without a conscience and full of confidence because my teammates were expecting me to.”
Said Miller, “She got into a zone. It’s fun to coach players when they get that way. It’s really special to watch. At that point, you just kinda try to stay out of their way and let them play the game.”
In the third quarter, Jasmine Thomas had another three-point shot, a drive to the basket, a baseline jumper and a fast break layup with a pretty feed from Bonner.
“We all know what she is capable of,” Alyssa Thomas said of Jasmine Thomas. “She knows when it is time for her to take over. I don’t any of us are surprised she had a game like this. When she gets into a zone like this, it makes us a very dangerous team.”
Added Hiedeman, “She was on fire. I really don’t have the words to say. She was going crazy the whole game.”
Jasmine Thomas exceeded her previous career high of 29 points in game three of last year’s WNBA semifinals against the Los Angeles Sparks when the Sun swept the series to earn a spot in the 2019 WNBA finals.
NOTES: Connecticut has now won three consecutive WNBA playoff games by double-digits for the first time in team history. … This was the first double-digit loss of the season for Las Vegas. … This was the first-ever playoff game between the two franchises. Las Vegas was previously the San Antonio Stars.
Las Vegas Aces forward Dearica Hamby has been named the 2020 WNBA Sixth Woman of the Year, the WNBA announced today. Hamby has been selected as the league’s top reserve for the second season in a row. She is the third player to win the award in back-to-back seasons, joining Chicago’s Allie Quigley (2014 and 2015) and DeWanna Bonner, when she was in Phoenix (three in a row from 2009-11).
Las Vegas Aces General Manager of Basketball Operations Dan Padover has been named the 2020 WNBA Basketball Executive of the Year.
Connecticut vs. Las Vegas
Sunday, September 20
Game 1: Connecticut 87, Las Vegas 62. Connecticut leads series, 1-0
Tuesday, September 22
Game 2: Connecticut vs. Las Vegas, 7 p.m. (ESPN2)
Thursday, September 24
Game 3: Las Vegas vs. Connecticut, 7:30 p.m. (ESPN 2)
Sunday, September 27
Game 4: Las Vegas vs. Connecticut, TBA, if necessary
Tuesday, September 29
Game 5: Connecticut vs. Las Vegas, TBA, if necessary