“They just kicked our ass in every way possible. There’s no two ways about it,” Becky Hammon said immediately after Game 3 to open up questions from the post-game presser. Facing elimination at home, the Sun blitzed the Aces early, pulling off an impressive run after an early timeout. Despite a third-quarter flurry that brought Las Vegas within six points, the Sun tightened their defense and thrived on turnovers, stealing the ball six times in the fourth. That’s not counting the shot clock violations.
Curt Miller crossed (putting a different position defender on an opposing player; Gray largely did not defend Bonner, but Bonner defended her for most of the match) DeWanna Bonner against Chelsea Gray for much of the match . Her extra length was key in stifling Gray, holding her to her lowest game in the playoffs (11 points) and fewest field attempts in the playoffs (7).
Bonner was adept at preventing Gray’s dribble penetration, providing that extra margin of error the Sun lacked much of this series that allowed their off-ball defense to play so aggressively. For the first time in this series, it felt like Connecticut could consistently dictate possessions with their defense instead of playing on their back foot for most of the game.
The Sun shuffled their covers, showing traps and hedges to Gray, playing drop when Kelsey Plum ran pick and roll to make it harder for him to get his drives to the edge that punished Connecticut in the second match. Alyssa Thomas played one of the best defensive games in recent memory, roaming over Kiah Stokes and Dearica Hamby, smearing and owning the paint defensively with incredible defensive rotations off the ball. Few can mix up his level of timing, balance, and all-out offensive aggression without fouling every other possession.
Thomas’ all-around game was impeccable; dominant defense on and off the ball. She facilitated without hesitation, feeding her teammates out of practices, into transition, out of offensive rebounds and exquisite inside passes to the Connecticut greats. His pushing shot was key to exploiting Vegas’ defensive shortcomings. They’re comfortable and have been in every series, helping Thomas contain practices, leaving her open on her rolls to the basket off the screens.
She landed five of her patented push shots last night, including four straight shots to open the night.
Finishing with the first triple-double in WNBA Finals history summed up an incredible game for Thomas and a historic night for the Sun as they went 4-0 in playoff games this postseason.
Courtney Williams, Natisha Hiedeman and Bonner combined to shoot 18/32 after shooting 16 in total through the first two games. Filming was day and night. The Las Vegas defense was less active, which no doubt played a role, but the Connecticut shooters found a level of comfort in the half-court they hadn’t tackled since the semis.
Establishing upside down was key, something Curt Miller repeated after the game. He used a timeout just over two minutes into the game as the Aces took a 9-2 lead, and the Sun launched outside jumpers early. With a refocused mindset after the timeout, the Sun got to work, mostly behind the play and the inside presence of Jonquel Jones.
Jones scored 20 points last night, but it was 20 points that felt like 37. It was like “what goes down faster?” A bowling ball or a tennis ball,” the answer is neither (scream Galileo), but how can you watch a bowling ball without feeling like it’s falling faster? It was 20 dots much heavier, denser and punchier than I could have perfectly drawn.
“She was so physical tonight,” Miller said.
“Required basketball. Active out of basketball in their rotations. You saw a determined JJ the whole time… just very proud of the way she played.
His physique was noticeable as soon as the ball tipped over. She came to the foul line early, the first points on the board for the Sun. Jones had a little trouble getting in touch during the playoffs. She did not receive a crowd of calls in her favor. There were understandable moments of frustration on both sides. Last night was different.
Jones made a concerted effort to dominate in the paint, cement himself with deep joints and a post stance, and make himself a focal point. It was exactly what the team needed.
That part about rotations and off-the-ball activity seemed like key to watching and re-watching the game. She made herself a focal point in the flow of the offense.
Jones had moments in the previous two games, particularly in Game 2, where she was aggressive, diving when spaced out or dodging when her defender had distracted her. With more dribbling penetration and fluidity in the half-court attack in general, the opportunities have increased exponentially for Jones to attack gaps.
Even when she wasn’t scoring herself, her ability to hit the glass, suck the defense up with her and move the ball around was a cornerstone of the team in half-court.
Attacking as she did forced the defensive collapse and opened up the secondary opportunities the Sun thrived on last night; they outshot Aces by 14, including +7 on the offensive glass. They set a WNBA Finals record, beating the Aces 66-24 in the paint.
“Going back to the last game before this one, I felt like I did a good job, and I also feel like the sooner I can lean in and do my job, the more I will have. opportunities because the defense can’t charge,” Jones said when asked about her aggressiveness in finding places to attack the edge of the ball.
“I have to use these opportunities to get easy buckets because it’s been tough. The playoffs were tough. There was a lot of (defensive) attention. Whenever I can get an easy bucket, I’ll try to get it.
Becky Hammon mentioned that aces need to better anticipate these ducks. Jones got deep positioning far too often for Hammon’s liking.
With Thomas facilitating more, acting as the Sun’s point guard more often than not, Jones finding other aggressiveness and physicality gear, and the Sun finding defensive progress, Game 4 is an exciting proposition.
I’m done making predictions this playoff; The Connecticut Sun has repeatedly made me feel completely stupid about them. While it would be wrong to expect a win, it’s equally unfair to expect a loss, given the guts and courage this team showed in the face of adversity and elimination. . It sounds cliché, but it’s just true. At the highest level and in the most difficult circumstances, the Sun finds ways to shine the most.
The Aces undoubtedly return extremely motivated for Game 4. They were out of every facet of defeat. Their defense crumbled and was slow. Their offensive process was turned upside down by pressure from Connecticut. They were dominated inside the arc in every possible way.
Hang on, guys. We have a series ourselves!
WNBA reporter Mark Schindler writes a column on WNBA.com throughout the season and can be reached on Twitter at @MG_Schindler. The opinions on this page do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the WNBA or its clubs.