Sun take a commanding 2-0 lead over the Sparks in WNBA semifinal series
Mohegan — Connecticut Sun coach Curt Miller, sitting on the bench before Thursday night's game, wondered what the Los Angeles Sparks would try to do differently from Tuesday night, knowing it wouldn't be as easy for the Sun to repeat their Game 1 success.
And initially it wasn't easy.
That is until the Sun, with the sheer dominance of 6-foot-6 Jonquel Jones inside and a WNBA playoff record 29 first-half rebounds, made it look as if it were on the easy side.
The Sun, the No. 2 seed in the WNBA semifinals, won Game 2 of the series, as well, Thursday, toppling No. 3 Los Angeles 94-68 before a vocal 8,051 fans at Mohegan Sun Arena and taking a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five series headed to L.A.
It was the largest margin of victory for the Sun in their playoff history, topping a 20-point margin over the Washington Mystics on Sept. 29, 2004.
Game 3 against the Sparks will be played at 7 p.m. Sunday in Long Beach, Calif., at the Walter Pyramid.
"One of the things we didn't do well last game is offensive rebound," said the Sun's Alyssa Thomas, who tied for the team lead with 13 rebounds Thursday. "... We knew they were going to come at us even harder this game. It was just a matter of settling in."
"I think in the first game, just going back and watching it and being out there on the court, I felt kind of disappointed in my rebounding," said Jones, who helped the Sun overcome a 10-point deficit in the first quarter to break the game open. "I felt like I was getting my hands on the ball, but I just wasn't finishing."
Jones finished with a career playoff-best 27 points and 13 rebounds for the Sun and Courtney Williams had 25 points, six rebounds and six assists.
Thomas, who played all of Game 1 and most of Game 2 before finally coming off the floor with 5 minutes, 32 seconds to play, had 12 points, 13 rebounds, four assists and two steals.
The Sun outrebounded Los Angeles 46-24 overall and had 16 offensive rebounds to L.A.'s four.
Candace Parker, who led the Sparks with 24 points and 10 assists in Game 1, finished with three points, scoring her only basket of the game on a second-quarter 3-pointer which gave the Sparks a 34-31 lead.
Miller said it took the Sun some time to settle in.
"To L.A.'s credit, I thought they came out and were really physical," Miller said. "I thought they threw the first punch. I'm not sure we were ready for the physicality. We got a chance to relax and realize we had to match that physicality."
The Sun trailed by 10 in the first quarter after a steal and a layup by Riquna Williams, prompting Miller to call a timeout with his team trailing 16-6.
A fired-up Connecticut came out of the timeout with nine straight points to pull within 16-15, getting back-to-back baskets by Jones, who hit a mid-range jump shot and then finished inside on a feed from Courtney Williams.
Williams hit from outside from behind a screen by Thomas and Shekinna Stricklen knocked in a 3-pointer with 2:39 to play in the first quarter, immediately waving her arms to ignite the crowd.
L.A. led 22-15 after the first quarter.
The Sun pulled even, however, with 4:34 to go in the half, when Jones finished a three-point play, then came back with another inside move to make it 31-31. They took the lead for the first time on an offensive rebound by Jones with 1:04 to go, 39-38, and after a pair of free throws by Tierra Ruffin-Pratt, Williams sprinted straight down the floor and hit the lane like a freight train for the final points of the half, giving Connecticut a 41-40 lead.
Thomas had 10 of the Sun's record-setting first-half total 29 rebounds and Jones had eight. Jones had 15 points and Williams 10.
Nneka Ogwumike had 13 points in the half for the Sparks.
The lead tipped back and fourth for only a few moments in the second half.
Williams' 3-pointer gave the Sun a 48-46 lead they wouldn't relinquish and that's the closest the Sparks would come for the remainder of the game. Thomas scored directly off a jump ball to lengthen the lead to 50-46 and the Sun stretched it to 70-57 by the end of the third quarter, with Williams hitting a jump shot, then racing the length of the floor to score off a turnover with 24.2 seconds to go.
Jones started the fourth quarter by scoring inside off a feed from Thomas and hitting a fallaway to make it 74-57.
"Oh, man, JJ. She killed 'em on the boards," Stricklen said of Jones' contributions. "She was hitting 3s. When she hits 3s, you know it's going to be a good day. ... We knew they were going to be aggressive, but it's a long game. We got three quarters to go. Let's get more physical with them."
"I thought their energy continued to build after we got off to the good start," L.A. coach Derek Fisher said. "Their energy increased and ours slowly dipped and we were not able to sustain the energy and effort on the defensive end that made them uncomfortable to start the game."
Ogwumike led L.A. with 18 points and Riquna Williams had 14.
The Sun are in search of their first WNBA title.