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Alyssa Thomas returns, helps Sun rally past Aces, 77-68

Alyssa Thomas wasn’t supposed to play for the Connecticut Sun on Thursday night after dislocating her right shoulder two days earlier.

This is Thomas, though, so she played through the pain and put the Sun on her damaged shoulders.

Thomas gutted through with one of the greatest single-game performances in franchise history in Game 3 of the Sun’s best-of-five WNBA semifinal series. She scored eight of her game-high 23 with a little over three minutes left as seventh-seeded Connecticut used a late burst to rally past the top-seeded Aces, 77-68, and take a 2-1 series at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.

Game 4 is Sunday at the same site (ESPN, 1 p.m.).

“I’m just doing me,” Thomas said. “I’m a tough person. I can handle a lot. I know what I’m capable of. I just want to be out there fighting with my team.”

Sun head coach Curt Miller said of Thomas, “She’s just a warrior. There’s nothing else you can say. She just is as competitive a person as I’ve ever been around, and you’re going to have to amputate that arm and shoulder before it’s going to keep her out.”

Thomas finished with 12 rebounds, four assists and a game-high three steals. She made two of those steals in the final 1 minute, 3 seconds.

Brionna Jones had 15 points, 10 rebounds and two steals for the Sun (14-13). DeWanna Bonner added 12 points and 10 rebounds and Jasmine Thomas had 10 points, six assists, five rebounds and two steals.

A’ja Wilson, this season’s WNBA MVP, had 20 points and 10 rebounds for Las Vegas (19-6). Angel McCoughtry added 14 points and seven rebounds.

“We ran out of gas,” Las Vegas head coach Bill Laimbeer said. “(Connecticut) executed when they needed to. We turned the ball over in the fourth quarter. We can’t let that happen. And their offensive rebounds also hurt us (the Sun had a 14-8 edge).

“A lot of things that win playoff games they were able to do, and we weren’t.”

Connecticut trailed by as much as 64-57 with 5:33 left.

The Sun closed with a 20-4 run and scored the game’s final 10 points. They also forced four turnovers in the final 1:30.

Thomas scored eight points during that 20-4 run. She also scored six of Connecticut’s final 10 points and had two steals during that game-ending run.

“I’ve known AT a long time,” Sun Brionna Jones said. “No matter what, injured or not, she’s going to play hard.

“I knew what we’re going to get today — a lot of passion, a lot of heart, and a lot of effort on both ends of the floor.”

Thomas was listed as “out” on the Sun’s injury report Wednesday after she dislocated her shoulder less than five minutes into Tuesday’s Game 2 loss.

Players told ESPN’s Holly Rowe that they could hear Thomas screaming in pain from outside Connecticut’s locker room.

Thomas has dealt with shoulder injuries over the past five seasons that have forced her to miss games. She’s also played the last few seasons with two torn labrums.

Thomas had an MRI Wednesday that showed no new injury to her right shoulder and was told it was her call whether-or-not to play.

“I’ve never dislocated it like that (on Tuesday),” Thomas said. “It was very painful going out and putting it back in. (Wednesday) I was super-sore, as to be expected.

“I’m used to it. I knew what to expect. That wasn’t going to stop me. I think we have a great opportunity in this series, and I want to be a part of it. Once I heard it was up to me, I knew I’d be out there.”

Asked about their conversation when Thomas said she was going to play, Miller grinned, “Pretty much like Alyssa and I’s relationship. She said, ‘I’m good.’”

“I’m like, ‘you’re good?’ And we’re like, ‘let’s go’.”

“That’s about the amount of words that were exchanged. That’s all I needed to hear.”

Turnovers and points in the paint played a big part in Game 3 just as they did in Game 2.

Connecticut turned it over 18 times for 22 points in Game 2. That included five turnovers for eight points in the fourth quarter.

Las Vegas also had 52-20 edge in points inside.

Connecticut had a 52-26 edge in points in the paint on Thursday night. It also had 11 steals and converted 16 Aces’ turnovers into 14 points. It forced four turnovers in the final 1:30, too.

The Sun also had just five turnovers.

“We played with five turnovers,” Miller said. “Five turnovers an entire game, in a high-pressure game.”

Connecticut shot 39-percent. Las Vegas shot 38.8.

“It was so encouraging that they didn’t quit playing because at one point late in the game, I think we were 5 of 36 outside the paint,” Miller said about his team. “Five of 36 outside the paint and we didn’t hang our heads. We went and played defense. We went and continued to rebound.”

Thomas began the Sun’s game-ending 10-0 run by driving left to right against Dearica Hamby and spinning around for a right-handed layup to give the Sun the lead for good, 69-68, with 2:05 remaining.

Bonner was fouled on the other end while going for a defensive rebound by McCoughtry and went to the free throw line on the other end.

Bonner made both free throws to push Connecticut ahead, 71-68, with 1:48 left.

Thomas had a steal on Las Vegas’ next possession. The Sun missed their next shot.

Briann January drew a charge on Jackie Young on the Aces' next possession.

Thomas followed with a floating bank shot for a 73-68 Sun lead with 48.9 seconds left.

Thomas had another steal the ball after an Aces’ timeout and made the layup.

The Sun trapped Kayla McBride at halfcourt to force another bad pass that was intercepted by Jasmine Thomas. She was fouled and made both free throws with 26.4 left for the game’s final points

“We just feed off of her,” Miller said of Alyssa Thomas. “We feed off her tenacity. We feed off the competitiveness. She was demanding that we play harder throughout the game.”

n.griffen@theday.com

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