The Connecticut Sun have made the semifinals four years in a row and are still looking for that first WNBA title. On Sunday night, they got one step closer by beating the Chicago Sky 68-63 on the road and ending their six-game losing streak against the Sky going back to last year’s semifinals.
Curt Miller went with his team’s strength and used his three bigs early and often on Sunday. The trio of Bri Jones, Alyssa Thomas, and Jonquel Jones dominated the paint and had 22 rebounds combined. They forced Chicago to play to their style of basketball: A physical game, with the offense running through their bigs, played at a slower pace. This led to the Sun outrebounding the Sky 47-36 and keeping the game low scoring. The Sky could only muster up 63 points on Sunday, their lowest scoring game of the year.
Offensively the Sun was led by DeWanna Bonner, who had 15 points and put the game away with her closing seconds layup. The Sun only ran three players off the bench, but one of those players was B. Jones, and she was great. She scored 12 points on 6-for-8 shooting and was able to rotate in and maintain one of the Sun’s key advantages over the Sky, bigs. It was a near-perfect game executed by Miller and company, and they needed all that and more to pull off the upset at Wintrust Arena.
Despite the success of the Sun, the game came with its challenges. Chicago was always within striking distance, and Candace Parker dominated the game with a stat line of 19 points, 18 rebounds, and 5 assists. Another critical aspect of the Sun’s victory was the disappointing play of the Chicago guards. The Vanderquigs shot an abysmal 5-for-18 from the field and mustered up just 12 points. You need more from your two starting guards, who both played 30-plus minutes. It was a combination of bad shooting and great defense that led to this performance. Bonner was guarding Quigley at every opportunity, especially late in the fourth quarter, guaranteeing every shot was contested and required as much work as possible to get up.
It sounds like a cliche, but no one believes in the Sun. They lost six in a row to the Sky and are constantly in contention yearly, but when the rubber meets the road, they lose. So this victory, while just one of three needed to advance, was huge. It silenced the critics and put Chicago on notice. Yes, the Sky had won every game against Connecticut before this one, but the losses averaged just 4.5 points per game, and the playoffs are a different beast. The Sun brought their best and had their frontcourt at the top of their game, and even a vintage Parker performance wasn’t enough to win at home.
Now the Sun can take a 2-0 lead against the Sky and get closer to that first championship with a victory on Wednesday night. Winning won’t be easy; in the last round the Sky also lost Game 1 and came back with one of their best playoff performances in the James Wade era dominating the Liberty. If the Sun want to win Game 2, they’ll have to repeat the game plan from Sunday: dominate the boards, get production from their bigs, and stop the Chicago Sky guards.