Sun-Mystics: Thursday's game will determine the WNBA championship

Mohegan — The team that has won the first quarter has won the first four games of the WNBA Finals.

The Connecticut Sun know they must start fast in Thursday night’s decisive Game 5 against the Washington Mystics in order to win that elusive first WNBA championship. On the road (8, Entertainment & Sports Arena, ESPN2).

The best way for the Sun to start fast may be to let their ATV lead the charge — power forward Alyssa Thomas.

Connecticut’s offense was at maximum power when Thomas was running the break in Tuesday’s Game 4 win. She set a WNBA postseason record with seven assists in a quarter as the Sun blitzed their way to 30-12 lead less than nine minutes into the game.

Thomas also tied the Finals record for most assists in a half (eight) and in a game (11).

“The first quarter, they just couldn’t stop it,” Thomas said. “We probably didn’t even run our first play for a long time. It was just about (scoring) in transition and getting then to mess up.

“It just kind of happened that way at the beginning of the game.”

Thomas played the entire way for the third time in four playoff games and had 17 points and eight rebounds.

“It changes our spacing,” Sun coach Curt Miller said about Thomas leading the break. “It changes our attack. We like that she’s initiating offense and some of the actions that it gets us in.

“You can’t do that (all game). (Washington) is too talented. They're too well-coached to do anything for too long. But in stretches tonight with Alyssa starting the offense, we were really, really productive. Some of our most productive offense came with her running the offense.”

Another big key for Connecticut is to keep Jonquel Jones involved offensively. Jones, who earned the second All-WNBA second team honor in her four-year career this season, had just two more shots (10) in Game 4 than she had in both of the Sun’s losses (Games 1 and 3).

Jones did, however, make the most of her shots. She made six and was 6-for-6 at the free throw line for a game-high 18 points. She was more aggressive on both ends than she was in Game 3 and had a game-high 13 rebounds.

Connecticut’s Courtney Williams said: “I told her at halftime, ‘J, I don't care what they're doing to you. I don't care how physical they are. I don't care if they're beating you up. Stay doing what you're doing because that's huge. What you're doing is huge for us right now. So regardless of what they're doing, I don't care how much they're beating you up, you're a dog. So stay after it, baby, because that's huge for us.'”

The Sun must also stay as aggressive on defense as they are on offense. Washington shot better than they did in Game 4 (47.1-42.9 percent), and it rallied to take a 77-72 lead early in the fourth quarter.

Connecticut did keep the Mystics from scoring on their last five possessions to win 90-86.

“Both teams made runs,” the Sun's Shekinna Stricklen said. “That’s just the game of basketball. We stayed together when they made their run and tied it up and took the lead, went up by two, we didn’t panic we stayed together, and we just kept competing.

“We had a letdown. I think at times we overhelped (on defense) when we didn’t need to. At times we came down and we rushed shots when we didn’t need to.”

Washington coach Mike Thibault was not happy with the officiating in Game 4 and it was the first thing he discussed during his postgame interview. Connecticut had a 26-13 edge in free throw attempts.

“I’m struggling to understand how Connecticut played with one foul in the fourth quarter,” Thibault said. “The stats are telling me that Elena Delle Donne and Emma Meesseman shot three free throws between them, and Alyssa Thomas and Jonquel Jones shot 16 free throws. So I think that’s the difference in the game.

“I felt if we could have gone to the line a couple more times, we could have slowed their momentum down a little bit (too).”

Another big obstacle for the Sun is winning on the road, a challenge for any team at any level.

Washington is 17-4 at home this season. Connecticut gave it that fourth loss, 99-87 in Game 2.

“You want something so bad, you’re going to leave it all out there,” Stricklen said. “Thursday is going to be tough, but I think we’re going to be fine. I think we’re more healthy. They’re having some issues with injuries.”

Delle Donne, the 2019 WNBA MVP, and fellow starter Ariel Atkins are both dealing with back issues.

The Sun listed no one on their injury report, perhaps a sign that reserve point guard Layshia Clarendon will play. She played nine games to start the season before injuring her right ankle during a June practice that required surgery.

“I think this quick turnaround might be tough for (Washington), but I know it’s not going to be easy, though,” Stricklen said. “It’s going to be tough and it’s going to be a battle.”

n.griffen@theday.com

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