Miller believes in Sun's numbers as WNBA playoffs begin vs. Phoenix

Phoenix Mercury guard Diana Taurasi protests a call vs the Connecticut Sun in the second half of a WNBA game July 13 at Mohegan Sun Arena. The Sun meet the Mercury in a single-elimination game Thursday night which will serve as Connecticut's playoff opener. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
Phoenix Mercury guard Diana Taurasi protests a call vs the Connecticut Sun in the second half of a WNBA game July 13 at Mohegan Sun Arena. The Sun meet the Mercury in a single-elimination game Thursday night which will serve as Connecticut's playoff opener. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)

Mohegan — Connecticut Sun coach Curt Miller has insisted since April’s WNBA Draft that winning a championship is a numbers game. The number eight, to be exact.

Miller believes the team with the best eight players wins WNBA titles. So while he and the Sun have prided themselves on winning with depth, he talked all season about them needing a core group of eight that could be counted on during crucial moments (with a few alphas among them to take the big shots).

The time has arrived for Connecticut’s eight to step forth and lead the franchise to their first WNBA title.

The fourth-seeded Sun play host to the fifth-seeded Phoenix Mercury in Thursday night’s second-round WNBA playoff game at Mohegan Sun Arena (ESPN2, 8:30 p.m.)

It is a single-elimination game and a rematch of a second-round game from last season which the Mercury won 88-83.

Phoenix also beat Connecticut in two of three games this season.

“I feel like we do (have eight),” Connecticut’s Jasmine Thomas said. “I also still feel that the way this team is built that the eight sometimes changes. I feel like everyone has experience throughout the season and played significant minutes at different times. So sometimes that eight has the depth in the post spot, or depth in the guard spot. You never know.

“I do think we have a core group that we know is ready.”

Connecticut (21-13) may be without one of its core players again as starting post Chiney Ogwumike is listed as questionable. She’s missed the previous two games due to her knee.

The Sun were the league’s highest-scoring team this season (87.6) and did so as a collective. They had just one player finish among the league’s top 20 scorers (Ogwumike was 20th with 14.4 ppg).

Connecticut was the only team in the league with five players scoring in double figures: Jasmine Thomas (12.9 ppg), Courtney Williams (12.6), Jonquel Jones (11.8), Alyssa Thomas (10.3) and Ogwumike.

“Curt really goes deep and they've very productive,” Mercury coach Sandy Brondello told the Arizona Republic. “We have to be ready to handle pick-and-rolls. Alyssa Thomas is a handful. Jonquel Jones is getting going again. We have a lot of respect for the team, but we've gone there and won before.”

The Mercury (21-14) are the anti-Sun because they’ve leaned on one of the WNBA’s best trios in DeWanna Bonner (forward), center Brittney Griner (center) and the ageless Diana Taurasi (guard).

Taurasi tied Las Vegas Aces’ rookie A’ja Wilson as the league’s third-leading scorer (20.7) and Griner was sixth (20.5). Bonner was 13th overall with 17.3.

Do the math. Phoenix averaged 85.8 points, so everyone not named “Brittney," “DeWanna” or “Diana” combined to average 27.3 points.

No trio combined to score a bigger share of their points than Bonner, Griner and Taurasi (67.5 percent). They also accounted for over half the team’s assists and rebounds.

“We may not have the superstar players, but very few teams have five players that average in double figures,” Miller said. “We’ll just try to keep running fresh bodies at Phoenix all game long and try to find a unit that is having success.

“(They’re) a very difficult matchup for us, obviously, in a single-elimination game. They have some of the greats. … What’s made them special in this stretch (late in the year) is the shooting percentages from (forward Stephanie) Talbot, from (guard Leilani) Mitchell, from (guard Yvonne) Turner, from (guard) Briann January, who led the league in 3-point shooting this year (47 of 100, 47 percent). It’s the four other players that are shooting lights out that make them so dangerous and complement the big three.”

Phoenix rallied from a 37-20 deficit with 7 minutes, 33 seconds left in the second quarter to win last year’s second-round game at Mohegan.

Mitchell, a reliable 3-point sniper, made a go-ahead 3 to put the Mercury ahead to stay, 78-76, with 3:35 left in the game.

“The playoffs are bleeping intense,” Sun reserve Layshia Clarendon said with a laugh when asked to describe them. “The intensity level just rises to something that, if you’re a rookie or haven’t experienced it before, it just kind of hits you.”

n.griffen@theday.com

Connecticut Sun coach Curt Miller questions a call with center Brionna Jones looking on in a game against the Los Angeles Sparks on Sunday at Mohegan Sun Arena. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
Connecticut Sun coach Curt Miller questions a call with center Brionna Jones looking on in a game against the Los Angeles Sparks on Sunday at Mohegan Sun Arena. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
Connecticut Sun forward Alyssa Thomas unloads a pass against the Los Angeles Sparks on Sunday at Mohegan Sun Arena. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
Connecticut Sun forward Alyssa Thomas unloads a pass against the Los Angeles Sparks on Sunday at Mohegan Sun Arena. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)

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