Aces edge Sun to win WNBA semifinal series
The Connecticut Sun started off the fifth and final game of Tuesday's WNBA semifinal oh, so fast.
The Sun scored 30 first-quarter points against the Las Vegas Aces, the most points by any team in any quarter this series. They even went ahead by as much as 16 points early in the second quarter.
Connecticut's offense proceeded to hit a wall. Hard. And it was ugly.
It wasn't much better for top-seeded Las Vegas, but 2020 WNBA MVP A'ja Wilson dragged her team across a long stretch of gravel. She scored their final nine at the free throw line to give them a 66-63 series win at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., and prevent the Sun from making its second straight trip to the WNBA Finals.
"Credit (Las Vegas') defense a little bit," Sun head coach Curt Miller said about the team's offensive struggles. "They continued to congest us (inside the paint). (We) struggled at times on the defensive glass (the Aces had a 13-8 edge in second-chance points), so we couldn't get out and run as much as we did in the first quarter. So (the offense) was grinding to a halt.
The seventh-seeded Sun took a 30-17 lead after one quarter.
Connecticut led by as much as 35-19 with 8 minutes, 30 seconds left in the first half.
The Sun made just 11 of their final 46 shots (23.9-percent) the rest of the game.
"You shoot under 25-percent for a half (24.2 in the second), I don't care what level you coach at, you don't win a lot of games when you shoot under 25-percent for a half."
Connecticut finished shooting 36.6-percent, including missing 16 of 19 threes.
Las Vegas shot 35.5-percent and didn't make a field goal in the final 8:05.
The Aces prevailed, however, by getting to the free throw line. They made 19 of 22. Connecticut made 8 of 9.
Nobody got to the line more than Wilson. She didn't take a free throw through three quarters but made 9 of 10 in the fourth.
"I knew that was my time to really put my team on my back with the help of (my teammates) and keep chugging," Wilson said. "I felt like I was in cruise control all season and didn't want to go out like that (with a loss).
"When the fourth quarter came, I knew I had to flip the switch and give it all I've got."
Wilson finished with 22 points, 11 rebounds, four assists and three blocks for Las Vegas (21-6).
"The big plays were made by A'ja Wilson going to the free throw line and attacking the basket," Aces head coach Bill Laimbeer said. "Both teams played defense, and no one could score. That's a test of wills. That's what happened today.
"It was an ugly basketball game, but it was a pretty basketball game (for us) because our team learned a tremendous amount about themselves. We didn't give up."
Angel McCoughtry added 20 points and three steals for Las Vegas. It'll face the second-seeded Seattle Storm (20-4) in the best-of-five WNBA Finals, which begin Friday at the same site (7 p.m. ESPN2).
Seattle swept the fourth-seeded Minnesota Lynx in its semifinal series.
Alyssa Thomas had 22 points and 10 rebounds for Connecticut and DeWanna Bonner had 15 points, eight rebounds, six assists and five steals.
"We missed a lot of good shots down the stretch," Bonner said. "They got to the free throw line."
Las Vegas missed 13 of 15 field goals in the fourth but was kept afloat by Wilson.
Wilson's fourth and fifth free throws of the fourth quarter gave the Aces a 62-61 lead with 6:18 remaining.
Connecticut went 4:14 without a point until Alyssa Thomas' layup gave it a 63-62 edge with 2:19 left.
Wilson put Las Vegas ahead to stay, 64-63, with two free throws with 1:47 remaining.
Both teams began to look gassed during the third quarter with both turning it over eight times. It also resulted in a tight game — starting at 5:54 remaining in that period, neither team led by more than one possession the rest of the game.
Las Vegas used a 13-0 run to go ahead, 52-49, with 4:03 remaining in the third.
Jasmine Thomas made a late layup to give Connecticut a 54-53 lead after three.
The Sun were just the third team in WNBA history to qualify for the playoffs after losing their first five games.
"I hope that everyone saw that we came together, as a unit, as a team, as a family," Bonner said. "And it wasn't easy here in this bubble at all.
"For us to make it to a Game 5 of the semifinals. … it just shows the group that we had and how we came together and preserved. That 0-5 start, we just had a great story, and I'm just so proud to be part of Connecticut."
Alyssa Thomas honored
Alyssa Thomas was selected to the 2020 WNBA All-Defensive first team on Tuesday, as chosen by the league’s head coaches. It is the third time in four season she has been named to the team and her inaugural first-team honor.
Thomas led the WNBA in steals (2.0 spg), was second in rebounding (9.0 rpg) and fifth in defensive rebounding (7.2 drpg) during the regular season.
“I’m really happy for her; proud of her,” Miller said. “She’s our anchor on defense. She’s one of the few in the league that guard all five positions. … She is truly one of the elite defenders in the world.”
Connecticut raised $3,240 this season as part of its "Free Throws for Change" fundraiser. The team made a $5 donation for every made free throw in the first three quarters, and $10 for every made free throw in the fourth quarter to its foundation as part of its "Change Can't Wait" social justice initiative.
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