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Mohegan - It was through pure coincidence, or fitting symmetry, that the two champions crowned in sports last week had something other than the most talent. That's right. Neither the Dallas Mavericks nor the Boston Bruins — throw in the San Francisco Giants from last fall, too — bore rosters over which the experts hyperventilated.
And yet who emerged with the hardware?
This is good news for the Connecticut Sun.
Now, it is somewhere between presumptuous and ludicrous to talk championships two weeks into the WNBA season. But the principles that guided the Giants, Mavs and Bruins should be inspirational to the Sun, who, by the way, sit in first place alone today.
This just in: The Sun do not have the most star-laden roster in the league. But there are early signs of T-E-A-M that can at least prompt questions of "Why not us?" and "Why not now?"
"There's a clear message," Sun coach Mike Thibault was saying after Sunday's 83-68 win over Chicago in Neon Uncasville, alluding to the accomplishments of the Mavs and Bruins.
"There are rewards for team sacrifices," he said.
Such rewards, beyond box scores, are beyond the scope of most sports conversations, too. Nobody starts breathing into a brown paper bag over a lights-out bunter or faithful boxer-outer.
"For 11 and a half months — and I do it, too — we all talk about everything else except 'team,'" Sun guard Kara Lawson said. "How great this guy is, how great that guy is. Then for two weeks we get knocked over the head and fully recognize what wins in sports. You see it during the finals. Oh yeah, the best 'team' won. Then we forget about it again."
Lawson was part of a team victory Sunday that illustrated some of the team sacrifices Thibault referenced. DeMya Walker drew two more offensive fouls — one when she got whacked in the jaw, another when she got knocked on her keister — bringing her team-leading total to seven charges drawn thus far.
"If you're going to be in this league," Walker cracked, "you have to be good at something."
Kelsey Griffin continued her assault against assorted detractors in and out of the media, with 154 more examples of how there's this uncanny correlation between playing your butt off and always being in the right place at the right time. She finished with eight rebounds, four of which kept possessions alive and resulted in Sun points. She finished a "plus-13" meaning the Sun scored 13 more points than the Sky when Griffin was on the floor. Surely, though, her 1-for-4 shooting will continue the I-told-you-sos.
Kalana Greene started the game defending Epiphanny Prince, the Sky's dynamic guard, providing a longer, more athletic defensive presence for Prince to negotiate. Greene and Danielle McCray give the Sun athleticism in the backcourt and on the wings they've really never had.
Walker, Griffin and Greene aren't going to be part of anybody's game synopsis because their contributions weren't stat sheet friendly. But they are a part of Lawson's definition of what makes winners.
"I think our team realizes they'll be as good as the sum of the parts," Thibault said.
This is not to suggest they don't have individual parts. Tina Charles, as evidenced by her 31 points and 12 rebounds, is a horse. Asjha Jones looks more like all-star Asjha every day. Lawson is a trustworthy veteran, perimeter threat and ring-owner from her days at Sacramento. Even Renee Montgomery is playing better. Her 2-for-9 shooting was irrelevant Sunday because other parts of her game — like a willingness to stick her nose into traffic — percolated.
"We are taking baby steps toward being a good team," Lawson said. "There's a danger for us. We need to stay rooted in reality. We're not a good team yet. Don't forget, we had early success last year, too."
This success, however, feels different.
The best talent might win after all this season. It's been known to happen. But there are blueprints out there in Dallas, Boston and San Francisco for the Sun to follow. Sacrifice, teamwork, give it to Tina … and, hey, who knows?
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.