Veteran Mercury finish off Sun in WNBA playoffs
Mohegan — It was a good Sunday spoiled for the Connecticut Sun.
Connecticut began its day all smiles and celebrated as center Jonquel Jones and head coach Curt Miller received WNBA awards prior to their second-round playoff game.
The Sun were stone-faced hours later when they returned to the dais.
Connecticut wasted a 17-point lead and lost to the Phoenix Mercury 88-83 in an elimination game before 8,420 at Mohegan Sun.
It was a tough end for a team that had been the WNBA's best surprise of the year.
“It is a difficult press conference because I enjoy coaching this team so much that I just wanted the journey to continue this year," Miller said. "While we made incredible strides, we became a little greedy. We wanted to keep advancing and moving on in the playoffs."
Sun point guard Jasmine Thomas said, "We had a great start to the game, but we weren't able to keep that tempo and that momentum. Towards the end of the game, we couldn't get stops and we couldn't put the ball in the basket for the last few minutes."
Connecticut played one of its best first halfs of the season as it crisply and quickly built a 37-20 lead with seven minutes, 33 seconds left in the second quarter.
Phoenix slowly ground away at the Sun and their lead. They went over five minutes without field goal to close the game.
"We got the game up-tempo like we wanted, which made it an incredible first quarter for us, scoring 50 points in the first half," Miller said. "You have to give Phoenix a lot of credit. We wanted to try to take their legs away from them and keep the game up-tempo as much as possible, but they were the ones that made big threes in the fourth quarter."
Leilani Mitchell's 3-pointer gave the Mercury the lead for good, 78-76, with three minutes, 35 seconds left.
Diana Taurasi and Monique Currie followed with back-to-back 3-pointers to push Phoenix's lead to 84-79 with over two minutes left.
"(That) was the backbreaker," Miller said.
Alyssa Thomas had 20 points and 10 rebounds for the Sun and Jonquel Jones had 19 points and 15 rebounds. Jasmine Thomas finished with 15 points and four assists, and Courtney Williams scored 10.
"We can have better nights in the mid-range game," Miller said, "but when you look at the stats and see that you outscored them in the paint by well over 20, you outrebound them (39-29), and you hold them to less than 20 shots in the paint the whole night, man. ... That is a veteran, incredibly talented team that made the plays necessary to win a close game."
Phoenix advances to play defending champion Los Angeles in a best-of-five semifinal series starting Tuesday.
It was the second year in a row that the Mercury went on the road and won a single-elimination second-round game. Olympians Brittney Griner and Taurasi, the lone holdovers from their 2014 WNBA championship team, led the way.
Griner had a game-high 26 points with nine rebounds. Taurasi scored 23 with four assists.
Phoenix's experience was noticeable as it gradually rallied against the younger Sun. It found ways to get tough baskets. It used veteran savvy to induce fouls and get to the free throw line.
Griner made 12 of 14 free throws. It was 10 less than the Sun had as a team.
"It’s a learned behavior. It really is," Taurasi said about learning how to grind out playoff wins. "You have to go through the process. My first couple of years in the WNBA, we didn't even make the playoffs.
"Their experience will come, and this will only help them. They're a talented team, and this is just the tip of the iceberg for them."
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