A battle for control of the series
UNCASVILLE, CT — The conventional wisdom held that even though Game 2 of the best-of-five WNBA semifinals between the Los Angeles Sparks and Connecticut Sun could not clinch for anyone, the winner of it would hold a decisive advantage going forward.
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A Sun win would mean just one more victory would send the Sun to the WNBA Finals, and three chances to do so. A Sparks win, and Los Angeles merely needed to hold serve at home, where it has won 15 straight games.
So it is the Sun who are now just one win from the finals, and four wins from the ultimate prize, after a 94-68 win.
So how did it all happen? Here’s what we’ve learned, and what it means for the remainder of the series.
Riquna Williams early
After Game 1, Riquna Williams spoke with regret about how little she attacked. That certainly wasn’t the case in Game 2, with Williams shooting early and often, going to the rim repeatedly and finding paths in a Sun defense that had largely cut off her access to the hoop Tuesday night.
Williams often parlays an early start into effective shooting later on, and so it was unsurprising when she ended a Connecticut run with a long three in the second quarter to extend Los Angeles’ lead to 31-26. By halftime, she had 12 points, more than any Los Angeles player save Nneka Ogwumike. But she scored just two in the second half, muted by Courtney Williams. She simply needs to find her consistent shot for the Sparks to rally in this series.
After a Game 1 in which Rachel Banham didn’t appear, she showed up for 5:34 beginning late in the first quarter, and made a significant difference in a game the Sun had been struggling for offense. Banham sank a three, attacked the rim repeatedly, and helped Connecticut climb out of a double-digit deficit. She added a garbage-time three as well.
“I didn’t call Rachel’s number the other night,” Miller said. “But she is the ultimate true professional. One of the most fun players for me to coach, on and off the court. She’s just always ready. She’s really smart, Xs and Os-wise, and she can space the floor.”
It is a reminder that while Curt Miller has shortened his bench so far this postseason, that is not a permanent state, and plenty of players can and likely will help the Sun in bursts the rest of the way.
Feeding Jonquel Jones
A key question hanging over the Sun for years now boils down to: how much Jonquel Jones. Curt Miller simply doesn’t force it into her, and the results have been positive overall, but have kept the Sun from maximizing the advantage a 6’6 positionless player would provide if, say, she got 25 shots a game.
Well, Thursday night, Jones did not hesitate. The Sun found her deep in the block repeatedly in the first half, and by the break, she had 15 points on 15 shots. For reference, she took 15 shots in all of Game 1, and had taken 15 or more exactly once since August 1 over the final 13 regular season games.
Curt Miller said following the game that it was absolutely a plan to feed Jones, and it mattered in ways that extend beyond this game alone that she wanted it so badly.
“When JJ get into that zone, and she’s playing that type of basketball, it is hard to stop her,” Courtney Williams said of her teammate. “When she demands the ball, it’s different. We’re different.”
Already up 53-47, Jasmine Thomas found Jones, once again with great position. Three Sparks converged on her. It doesn’t really matter who does, when she is that close to the basket, and she finished to force Los Angeles to call a timeout.
The same thing to start the fourth quarter: Alyssa Thomas found Jonquel Jones. One bounce, to the hoop, and the Sun led by 15. Jones finished with 27 on 20 shots. That is a career-high in attempts for Jones.
Chiney charge, Courtney counter
Up 66-53, it looked like the Sun had a chance to blow the game open. But just as the Sun had rallied from double digits down in the first, so too did the Sparks counterpunch. With Candace Parker out of the game, L.A. ran things through Chiney Ogwumike, who hit a pair of baskets over the stout defense of Alyssa Thomas to cut the deficit to nine and force a Curt Miller timeout.
He called for Courtney Williams to shoot out of the timeout, and she sank the midrange jumper curling around a screen. At the other end, she poked the ball away, raced to the other end and finished the layup. Williams had 23 points by the end of the third quarter, a big reason the Sun led, 70-57. Los Angeles didn’t threaten again.
“It’s like running the radio all over again,” Williams said of seeing her prophecy, a Connecticut Sun title in 2019, now just four games away. “This is what we’ve been wanting to do, this is what we’ve been playing for. So now it’s all coming to life.” She smiled. “Yes sir!”
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