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Sun's season had jarring end

The 2021 Connecticut Sun put together the greatest regular season in franchise history topped off my numerous awards.

In eight days, the Sun's season came to a jarring end.

The sixth-seeded Chicago Sky took a blowtorch to the league's best defense in the first half of Game 4 on Tuesday night and knocked top-seeded Connecticut out of the postseason with a 79-69 win in a semifinal series at Wintrust Arena.

Adding injury to insult, the Sun were without starting guard Briann January due to injuries (ankle, knee). She aggravated the injuries while missing what would've been a go-ahead breakaway layup in the final seconds of Sunday's 86-83 Game 3 loss. She was arguably their best defender and a first team selection on this season's All-Defensive Team.

Oh, yeah — it was Connecticut head coach Curt Miller’s birthday.

"I think all series we never clicked the way we wanted to," Sun Jasmine Thomas said. "We tried to search for a rhythm that we had at the end of the regular season. We never got back to playing that Sun basketball in this series."

Courtney Vandersloot made a three just 19 seconds into the game and Chicago never lost its lead. It went ahead, 13-2, with 7 minutes, 14 seconds left in the quarter.

"Certainly a sad and disappointed locker room," Miller said. "So proud of a historic season that we had on the offensive end and rebounding and the position that we put ourselves in to be the overall number one seed.

"(It's) a disappointing eight-day stretch where we just were outcoached, were outplayed. We just couldn't get enough disruption on their really, really talented offensive weapons and just felt like we were always on our heels this series in individual games always coming from behind. (It) just caught up with us."

Two-time WNBA MVP Candace Parker had 17 points, nine rebounds and seven assists for Chicago, which led 54-41 at halftime, the most points the Sun had given up in a half this season.

Kahleah Copper added 18 points and six rebounds, Azura Stevens had 11 points and seven rebounds and Vandersloot scored 13 of her team-high 19 points in the first quarter and added four assists and four rebounds.

“This is the Chicago Sky that we expected (last year),” Miller said. “They’re healthy right now. ... Throw the 16-and-16, whatever their record was, out the window. This player-for-player team is just dynamic offensively and there’s a real, real confidence with them right now. But what’s really impressive is how hard they’re playing. You have to credit them playing well and (Sky head coach) James (Wade), he’s pushing all the right buttons.”

Jonquel Jones, the 2021 WNBA MVP, had a game-high 25 points and 11 rebounds for Connecticut, while reserve Natisha Hiedeman scored 16. Jasmine Thomas also had 11 points and five rebounds.

The Sun took a franchise-record 14 game winning streak into the playoffs, the fourth largest in league history.

Connecticut also set a franchise record for best winning percentage in the regular season (.813) and fewest losses (26-6 record).

Sun center Brionna Jones also won the league's Most Improved Player honor and Miller his second Coach of the Year award in addition to Jonquel Jones earning MVP.

"This team is very, very special," Hiedeman said. "Every single piece. We had a lot of fun off the court, on the court. We cared so much about each other.

"(This) wasn't the outcome that we wanted but after this, we're going to be on each other's phones telling each other to get better."

The Sky had an outrageous first-half offensively. They shot 57.6-percent and made 8-of-13 threes.

Connecticut finished shooting 38.1-percent.

"You've got to give credit to what (the Sky) did on defense," Thomas said. "We played too fast at times, and we couldn't make the reads we wanted. We just weren't ourselves and that's a credit to them, and also just us looking in the mirror and figuring out how we can be better moving forward."

Miller said, “At this level, it’s about championships. It’s just an empty feeling right now that we didn’t play as well as we’re capable of playing over the last eight days.”

n.griffen@theday.com

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