UNCASVILLE, Conn., Sept. 28, 2021 – Prior to game 1 of Tuesday night’s WNBA semifinal at the Mohegan Sun Arena, there was plenty of chatter about the defense of the Connecticut Sun.
Last week, four Sun players were named to the league’s All-Defensive team. Jonquel Jones received the Most Valuable Player award before the game while head coach Curt Miller received the Coach of the Year award. Brionna Jones received the Most Improved Player award.
But it was the defense of the visiting Chicago Sky that shut down the Sun in the second overtime as Chicago stole game one from Connecticut in the best-of-five series with a 101-95 victory.
Not only did the Sky play tremendous defense in the game, they also were led by point guard Courtney Vandersloot, who had a game for the ages. She became just the second woman in league history with a triple double in a playoff game with 12 points, 10 rebounds and a league-record 18 assists. The Sky had 31 assists on 38 field goals.
In the second OT session, Chicago outrebounded the Sun, 7-2 and limited Connecticut to 2-of-11 shooting from the field while the Sky sank 3-of-5 shots.
Chicago, the No. 6 seed, takes a 1-0 lead in the best-of-5 series and swiped home court advantage. Game two is Thursday night at 8 p.m. from the Mohegan Sun Arena.
“Obviously disappointed with the end result but what a great game to start this series,” Connecticut head coach and general manager Curt Miller said. “We had our chances. We took 13 more shots and 10 more free throws. We just were not efficient enough to overcome their offensive juggernaut and overcome how much (Vandersloot) can really, really influence a game.”
Candance Parker had 22 points for Chicago while Allie Quigley added 19. For Connecticut, Jonquel Jones had 26 points and 11 rebounds while Brionna Jones had 22 points and 10 rebounds. Dewanna Bonner added 13 points and pulled down 10 rebounds for the Sun.
The game was tied 15 times and the lead changed 14 times. Connecticut erased an early 13-point deficit and trailed virtually the entire fourth quarter finally tying the game on a pair of free throws from Jonquel Jones with 1:29 remaining.
The Sun took an 84-82 lead with 24.7 seconds remaining when Brionna Jones got her own rebound in traffic and scored but the Sky tied the game on a pair of free throws from Kahleah Copper with 19.3 seconds remaining. The Sky played solid defense in the final 19 seconds and the Sun couldn’t get a shot up.
In the first overtime, Copper drove to the basket to give the Sky, a 91-90 lead with 57.3 seconds remaining. Briann January tied the game by hitting one-of-two foul shots with 25.1 seconds left. Connecticut struggled at the free throw line, sinking just 22-of-31 shots in the contest.
Brionna Jones stole the ball with six seconds left to spark a Sun fast break but Connecticut ran out of time before they could get a shot up on the glass.
The Sun took a 93-91 lead early in the second OT but the Sky scored 10 of the final 11 points in the game to take a commanding 101-95 lead. Copper scored on a layup after an offensive rebound by the Sky, Parker scored in traffic in the lane, Stephanie Dolson sank a shot with one second left on the shot clock.
“You have to take advantage of every opportunity because if you don’t, they will take advantage of you,” Sky head coach James Wade said. “When you want what you want, you have to want it and have the force of will (to go get it).”
Wade praised his team’s defensive effort, especially in the second half and OT.
“We did a better job of staying in front of them and we did a better job of not fouling them,” Wade said. “We got key rebounds. We knew to win this game, we would have to defend and we executed against a great defensive team.”
“When you play a team like Connecticut, you have to take advantage of every opportunity you have,” Chicago coach James Wade said. If not, they take advantage of you. When you want what you want, you have to want it and have the force of will (to take it).”
Chicago led by as many as 11 points in the first quarter before the Sun ended the quarter on a 10-2 run – fueled by their defense – to cut the deficit to three. Nine of the 10 points came from Jonquel Jones. The Sun finally took a lead late in the second quarter on a nice baseline drive from Bonner who had nine points in the quarter.
The Sun led by as many as five after Jasmine Thomas stole the ball and drove in for a layup with 2:21 remaining in the half.
Vandersloot became the just second WNBA player with a playoff triple-double. The first was Sheryl Swoopes of the Houston Comets in 2005.
“She is amazing. When you look at the stats and see the way she controlled the game, there was a certain presence she had on the floor where she was able to control the game from beginning to the end,” Wade said. “It will go down as one of the best point guard games in playoff history.”
Miller added, “Ultimately, she orchestrated everything out there for them. We have to look for different ways to disrupt her.”
It was the third straight playoff win for Chicago, which bounced New York in the first round and eliminated No. 3 seed Minnesota on the road on Sunday, 89-76.
“They shot very efficiently (from the floor),” Miller said. “We just couldn’t string together enough stops. We just couldn’t build any momentum with our great defense. And we left some points on the board.”
The Sun missed several baskets at the rim and struggled from the free throw line. But Miller said his veteran team will be ready.
“This group is really, really competitive,” he said. “They left their heart and souls out there.”
NOTES: Chicago’s win snapped Connecticut’s franchise-record 14-game winning streak. … Chicago’s 31 assists set a new record for most assists in a game against the Sun, exceeding 24 by the Cleveland Rockers on August 15, 2000. … The last time Connecticut played an overtime game in the playoffs, they lost to the Indiana Fever in the Eastern Conference semifinals in 2007, 98-88. …This was the fifth double OT game in WNBA history. … The last time the Sun went to double OT was in the 2007 Eastern Conference semifinals against Indiana when the Sun earned a 93-88 victory.
2021 WNBA semifinals
No. 6 Chicago vs. No. 1 Connecticut
Tuesday, Sept. 28
Game 1: Chicago 101, Connecticut 95, 2 OT
Thursday, Sept. 30
Game 2: Chicago at Connecticut, 8 p.m.
Sunday, Oct. 3
Game 3: Connecticut at Chicago, 1 p.m.
Wednesday, Oct. 6
Game 4: Connecticut at Chicago, TBA, if necessary
Friday, Oct. 8
Game 5: Chicago at Connecticut, TBA, if necessary