The Sun went all-in on clinching another win in the race for playoff seeding, and got the job done.
SEATTLE — The Connecticut Sun came into Seattle hellbent on solidifying their playoff positioning. Connecticut head coach Curt Miller kept his All-Star power forward Alyssa Thomas in the contest for the first 34 minutes of Tuesday night’s game. Only in the dregs of the fourth quarter, with the Sun winding down the clock on a 89-70 victory, was Thomas finally allowed to come to the bench.
On a night where MVP candidate
was limited to only 20 minutes due to foul trouble, Thomas was the focal point of a fast-paced Connecticut attack. Much like the league’s other defensively focused championship contender, the Las Vegas Aces, Connecticut plays at a relatively slow overall pace, but only because their defense forces opponents to go deep into the shot clock. The Sun’s offensive possessions are actually
, and Thomas is central to that tempo. Considering that Thomas is a power forward with limiting shooting range, Thomas has the unconventional additional skill of having a tight handle with creative driving ability. This means that Thomas is a one-player fast-break — she’ll corral the defensive board and take off to the other side without slowing down to look for an outlet pass. Seattle had a difficult time containing the attack:
With the 6’6″ Jones mostly out of the equation, Connecticut does not have a significant size advantage over Seattle, if they have one at all. Still, the Sun outscored the Storm in the paint by a massive 58-18 margin. In addition to the fast break points generated by Thomas, the team’s constant motion also created a number of high-percentage inside looks:
Tuesday night was a significant one for the top of the WNBA playoff bracket: while the Sun secured their own victory, they also watched as their two neighbors on either side in the standings, the Washington Mystics and Los Angeles Sparks, faced each other. The Mystics’ dominant 95-66 win added to Washington’s historic number of blowouts, and inadvertently created a bit of separation between 2-seed Connecticut and 3-seed Los Angeles in the league standings. The Sun are now 2.5 games ahead of the Sparks, meaning that Connecticut will most likely be able to get a double-bye through the single-elimination rounds of the playoffs. Only one of Connecticut’s four remaining games is against a current playoff team.
More from Connecticut Sun
- Aces Wild: Las Vegas wins first WNBA Championship over Sun
- Your Day in Women’s Basketball, October 1: Why the Sun set on Connecticut’s season
- Your Day in Women’s Basketball, September 28: All-Rookie team announced
- Your Day in Women’s Basketball, September 24: Playoff Stewie time
- Your Day in Women’s Basketball, September 21: COVID scare for Seattle
While there are many detractors of the WNBA’s playoff system, which is heavy on those single-elimination games, that same system is what brought Connecticut’s best effort out in this game against Seattle. Contrast that to locked-in NBA playoff teams, who (correctly) spend the last chapter of their own regular season trying not to get hurt.
The loss also confirmed that the Storm are currently stuck in their own deep slump, particularly on the offensive end. Despite having to improvise a home court in 2019, due to renovations at Key Arena, Seattle opened an impressive 10-4 at home. But after a 63-54 loss to the Indiana Fever on Sunday, the Storm have now been beaten by double digits in consecutive home games.
Seattle’s problems go deeper than that: in the month of August, when the team has only gone 3-6, the Storm have had the least productive offense of any team in the WNBA. As you can see on this possession, Seattle is both slow to enter their offensive action, and then tend to defer to one another instead of taking initiative towards the basket. The shot clock winds down quickly:
Now in his 18th season of being a WNBA head coach, Dan Hughes’ attitude towards the blowout loss was not extreme frustration, but with an acknowledgement that even tough losses like these are part of a season without Sue Bird or Breanna Stewart: “We’ve never misled the team that this is going to be a task that has some highs and lows. I don’t think it would be fair for me to say that: we’re going to get to here, then we’re just going to win eight in a row. Just not probably reality. […] “I just know how hard it is. There’s a fine line between us being successful or not. I just have to be honest with you: we have to do things right, in a certain way, with great persistence.” While losses like these were simply not part of Seattle’s 2018 season, it’s also true that a .500 record and a playoff appearance would be a pleasant surprise to Storm fans who braced themselves at the start of the year for a team that did not include Bird, Stewart, or, briefly, Hughes himself.
Hughes was also very optimistic that his team would be able to rediscover a sense of unity and rhythm over the last four regular season games: “If we can weather it and kind of get back and find us playing good basketball, this lesson won’t be lost because we’ll be able to use it in the playoffs. But right now, it’s a bitter pill.”
Seattle has clinched an appearance in the playoffs, but the bottom half of the playoff bracket will likely not be sorted out until the final day of the regular season. Currently, the 15-15 Storm sit in the 7-seed, right in-between the 6-seed Minnesota Lynx (16-15) and 8-seed Phoenix Mercury (14-15).
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