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Historic finish lifts Connecticut past Sky and into WNBA finals

DeWanna Bonner had a team-high 15 points and nine rebounds to help the Sun beat Chicago Thursday night and advance to the WNBA finals for the first time since 2019.

It looked like the Connecticut Sun were finished.

In the decisive game five with the winner going to the WNBA finals, the defending champion Chicago Sky eliminated an eight-point deficit in the second quarter and led by 10 points after three quarters of play Thursday night.

With 4:47 left in the game, the Sky had a nine-point lead after Kahleah Copper dribbled the length of the floor and drove to the basket. The play had started with Candace Parker blocking a shot attempt from Jonquel Jones.

But Connecticut went on one of the most amazing and stunning runs in WNBA playoff history to close out a series, scoring the final 18 points of the game and limiting the Sky to just five points in the fourth quarter to earn a 72-63 win and advance to the WNBA finals for the first time since 2019.

Searching for their first title in team history, the Sun will face the Las Vegas Aces in a best-of-5 championship series that begins Sunday in Las Vegas.

Connecticut advanced after trailing the Sky 2-1 in the series with victories in game four at the Mohegan Sun Arena and Thursday night in Chicago against a Sky team that dropped consecutive games for the first time since June.

It was a stunning end to the series that left Wintrust Arena in Chicago silent outside the celebration of the Sun for winning the series and advancing to the WNBA finals for the fourth time in team history.

“This will probably hurt me for a long time,” Chicago coach James Wade. “I just couldn’t get them a bucket. I just couldn’t.”

“It’s a tough pill to swallow but that is sports,” Chicago’s Courtney Vandersloot said. “It was us. We didn’t make plays we had made all season.”

The Sky snapped a 40-40 tie at the half by taking a 10-point lead after three quarters, 58-48 with six points from Cooper, who had a team-high 22 points.

The lead was nine for Chicago, 63-54, with 4:47 remaining after the Parker block, the assist from Quigley and the driving layup to the basket from Copper. The Sky never scored again.

Chicago missed their final nine shots from the floor with the Sun pulling down the rebound after seven of the missed shots.

“Defense is what we’ve been hanging our hat on all year. It came down to that (tonight). Defense,” said Connecticut DeWanna Bonner, who had a team-high 15 points and nine rebounds.

Bonner cut the lead to six on a three-point play with 3:46 remaining. She was fouled by Copper on a drive to the basket and sank a free throw.

But Bonner and Copper got into a brief, verbal session after the play to the basket when Copper fouled Bonner. The referees checked the replay monitor to see if additional penalties should be assessed. None were but it gave the Sun a second to catch their breath.

On the next play, Courtney Williams blocked a shot from Chicago’s Allie Quigley and sprinted toward the Sun basket. Alyssa Thomas picked up the loose ball and threw a soaring pass to Williams, who caught it and drove the basket and scored, trimming the lead to four points, 63-59.

With 2:45 remaining, Thomas was fouled with four seconds left on the 24-second shot click and sank a pair of free throws. After a block by Jonquel Jones, it was Nathisha Hiedeman in the lane, scoring with her left hand to avoid a defender and tie the game at 63-63 with 2:26 remaining.

“We believe in each other. We adversity hits, we pick it right back up and we won the game and now we’re going to the championship and we’re not done yet, “ Hiedeman said.

With two minutes remaining, it was Jonquel Jones scoring a fast break layup from Bonner. Jones was fouled on the play and sank the foul shot to extend the lead to three, 66-63.

The Sky had the ball with about a minute remaining but Vandersloot turned the ball over when her pass into the lane bounced off the backboard and right to Jonquel Jones.

Williams, who finished with 12 points, hit a jumper off a nice feed from Thomas with 47.5 seconds to boost the lead to five, 68-63. It was part of a 14-0 run by Connecticut.

Bonner hit four foul shots in the final 20 seconds to conclude an 18-0 run by the Sun to close out the game and advance to the finals.

“If we stay together anything is possible, Bonner said. “We’ve been so relentless. Relentless all season. I am proud of this group. We have worked so damn hard. Don’t count us out yet. Because we are relentless.”

Jonquel Jones shoots over Carndace Parker in game four at the Mohegan Sun Arena.

Jonquel Jones also had 15 points for the Sun along with 10 rebounds while Alyssa Thomas scored 12 points, pulled down 10 rebounds and had a game-high eight assists. Hiedeman scored 14 points for the Sun, who assisted on 25 of 27 field goals and prevailed despite 21 turnovers.

“Just an incredible defensive effort, energy and passion from our players,” Sun head coach and general manager Curt Miller said. “For us to regroup in the fourth quarter, you saw how badly this group wants to keep playing with each other.”

Chicago was led by Cooper with 22 points, four steals and a blocked shot. Emma Meesseman had 14 points and six rebounds while Courtney Vandersloot had 12 points. It was a tough shooting night for Quigley, who was 1-of-12 from the floor and finished with three points.

Candace Parker, who dominated the first three games of this series, was held to seven points. She made just 2-of-7 shots from the field. She did have nine rebounds, three steals and four blocked shots but it wasn’t enough to carry the Sky.

“Tonight, we won the hard (one),” Miller said. “We were back against the wall. There were a few plays for the game to break on and we refused to give in. It was grit and determination, which is how we are built. They just stuck with it.”

The Sun limited Chicago to five points in the fourth quarter – the lowest number of points that the Sun have allowed in a playoff game. Chicago led by as many as 11 points in the fourth quarter with 7:20 remaining in the game.

Hiedeman and Williams, the starting guards for the Sun, gave the team a boost in the first quarter as Connecticut led 24-16 after the first 10 minutes of the game. They combined to sink five of their first seven shots from the field. Hiedeman was 3-for-3 with eight points after one quarter.

ESPN reported last night that Connecticut’s game-clinching 18-0 run with 4:46 left is the longest run in a WNBA playoff game in the last five minutes of regulation or later.

WNBA semifinals
(2) Chicago vs. (3) Connecticut
Sunday, Aug. 28
Connecticut 68, Chicago 63
Wednesday, Aug. 31
Chicago 85, Connecticut 77
Sunday, September 4
Chicago 76, Connecticut 72
Tuesday, Sept, 6
Connecticut 104, Chicago 80
Thursday, Sept. 8
Connecticut 72, Chicago 63, Connecticut wins series, 3-2

Game 5 boxscore: Sun 63, Sky 63

2022 WNBA finals
Sunday, Sept. 11
Game 1: Connecticut at Las Vegas, 3 p.m. (ABC)
Tuesday, Sept. 13
Game 2: Connecticut at Las Vegas, 9 p.m. (ESPN)
Thursday, Sept. 15
Game 3: Las Vegas at Connecticut, 9 p.m. (ESPN)
Sunday, Sept. 18
Game 4: Las Vegas at Connecticut, 4 p.m. (ESPN), if necessary
Tuesday, Sept. 20
Game 5: Connecticut at Las Vegas, 9 p.m. (ESPN), if necessary

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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