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Thomas, Sun down Sky in WNBA playoffs

There were over eight minutes left in Tuesday night's WNBA first round game when Connecticut Sun rookie Kaila Charles missed a jumper.

Teammate Alyssa Thomas grabbed the rebound and missed a putback.

Thomas grabbed the rebound again and missed the putback.

Thomas again managed to grab the rebound, leading to teammate Natisha Hiedeman getting two free throw opportunities.

Thomas had a playoff-record 10 offensive rebounds, more than the entire Chicago Sky team. The seventh-seeded Sun used that kind of effort — and a dominant third quarter — to beat seventh-seeded Chicago 94-81 at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.

Outwork. Outhustle. Outmuscle.

"I'm just always finding a way to impact a game despite me being an undersized post player (6-foot-2)," Thomas said.

Connecticut (11-12) advances to play the third-seeded Los Angeles Sparks (15-7) on Thursday night in a second-round, single-elimination game at the same site (ESPN2, 9).

Los Angeles beat the Sun in both regular season matchups, 81-76 (July 30), and 80-76 (Aug. 28).

Thomas had a game-high 26 points, 13 total rebounds and 8 assists for the Sun. She tied Parker for the most 20 point, 10 rebound and five assists performances over the last 10 postseasons with four each.

Thomas was the league's second-best rebounder this season, finishing just shy of beating Candace Parker of the Los Angeles Sparks for first (9.7 to 9 rpg). Thomas referenced hearing what former NBA rebounding (and defensive) savant Dennis Rodman said about the art of the rebound.

"A long time ago, I heard him talk about how he always used to rebound for certain teammates," Thomas said. "'Just watch them shoot.' That really stuck with me.

"A lot of times, when I come out early (for the pregame shootaround), I just watch my teammates shoot, or (watch) in practice when I pass to them. I watch how their ball comes off (the rim). I think it's a huge piece of my game and a reason why I'm able to rebound the way I do."

Thomas had more offensive rebounds than all of the Sky (5).

"That's insane," Sun DeWanna Bonner said of Thomas' offensive rebounding. "That's just heart. That's just fight. That's just grit. She's the most competitive player on our team, and once she gets going, everybody else kind of gets going. She makes you want to work a little bit harder.

"It shows a lot about her and how much she loves Connecticut and how much she'll lay out, put her body on the line."

Rebounding was a concern for the Sun because Chicago uses a big three-woman rotation in the post of Ruthy Hebard (6-4), Cheyenne Parker (6-4) and Stefanie Dolson (6-5).

The Sun outrebounded the Sky, 40-21. That included a resounding 17-5 edge in offensive rebounds.

"That's just been our thing all season," Bonner said. "If we rebound the ball, our running game is kind of dangerous.

"(Rebounding has) just been an emphasis, and when we see it go up, we get it."

Chicago's Kahleah Cooper said about the rebounding differential, "It's about the will."

Connecticut had a 23-7 edge in second-chance points. It also got itself to the free throw line and made 27 of 29. The Sky made 13 of 16.

The game was tied at halftime at 41.

Connecticut outscored the Sky in the third quarter, 27-11.

"We played really physically with great tempo and defended well," Connecticut head coach Curt Miller said. "And then that third quarter was huge for us. Tons of energy. Jas (Jasmine Thomas) made a couple of (threes). It took kind of the weight of the world off that we had to do everything through the paint.

"A dominant night on the glass and that was effort. ... Really a concerted team effort, but again, Alyssa Thomas is our engine. I got her 25 seconds of rest tonight. She just played so hard."

Bonner had 23 points, 12 rebounds and three steals and Brionna Jones added 12 points and 8 rebounds for the Sun. Charles came off the bench and scored 13.

Allie Quigley scored 19 for the Sky (12-11) and Courtney Vandersloot had 12 points, 6 assists and 4 rebounds. Gabby Williams added 16 points and 5 rebounds off the bench.

Jasmine Thomas opened up the second half with a three, her first made field goal of the game, followed by Jones' putback and a Bonner free throw to give the Sun a 47-41 edge 1 minute, 43 seconds into the third quarter.

Another Jones putback, another three by Thomas and January's jumper after a Thomas steal gave Connecticut its first double-digit lead, 54-43, with 6:54 remaining in the third.

The Sun closed the quarter with a 6-0 run with three reserves, including rookies Beatrice Mompremier and Charles, on the floor.

Hiedeman, who entered the game for the first time late in the period, started it with two free throws and a 19-foot jumper.

Briann January finished it with a driving layup to push Connecticut ahead, 68-52.

Bonner's two free throws gave the Sun their largest lead, 78-58, with 5:59 left in the game.

Alyssa Thomas, Bonner honored

Alyssa Thomas and Bonner were both named to the Associated Press' All-WNBA second team as chosen by a media panel of 16 voters.

Thomas averaged 15.5 points and was the only player in the league to finish in the top 10 in rebounding (second, 9 rpg), assists (sixth, 4.8) and steals (first, 2 spg).

Bonner tied Seattle's Breanna Stewart as the league's third-leading scorer (19.7 ppg) in her first season with the Sun. She was also 10th in rebounding (7.8 rpg) and finished in a five-way tie for fifth in steals (1.7 spg). She also averaged 3 assists.

Bonner and Thomas were the league's third-highest scoring combo (35.2 ppg) behind Arike Ogunbowale and Satou Sabally of the Dallas Wings (36.7), and Diana Taurasi and Skylar Diggins-Smith of the Phoenix Mercury (36.4).

n.griffen@theday.com

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