Four quarters and four very different looks from the Connecticut Sun
WASHINGTON — While a play can have any number of acts, a basketball game typically has four. Each quarter the Sun came out with a different look, though no strategy proved efficient enough to defeat the Mystics.
The Sun did not play a bad game. The Mystics just played a better one.
Once the Sun got into a shooting rhythm and Courtney Williams scored eight of the Sun’s first 15 points, the back and forth nature of this game seemed to be established.
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That is… until it was not.
The Sun spent the last three quarters trying to dig themselves out of a hole. After the Sun failed to score a point in the final 3:21 of the first quarter the Mystics turned an 18-17 lead into a 30-17 lead.
Sun head coach Curt Miller believed it was this opening act that ultimately doomed his team.
“I thought the first quarter killed us, obviously,” Miller said. “Take away that last foul, over the last three quarters we outplayed them and outscored them, but we dug ourselves in a hole, and we were always trying to climb out of it.”
The Sun came out fighting, however, as soon as they began to steal the momentum and make a couple of shots in a row, the Mystics were right there to answer. Connecticut failed to take advantage of Washington’s five turnovers, turning them into just four points.
Alyssa Thomas picked her team up and put them on her shoulders, scoring 12 points, including three in a row during a tough offensive stretch.
The Sun failed to find a way to make a defensive impact on the Mystics offense, who when they can’t go outside go inside and vice versa. This left the Sun vulnerable on the defensive schemes a number of times.
In the third quarter, the Sun focused on defense, taking it to the extreme several times in the first couple of minutes after halftime. The team picked up six fouls in the first five minutes, including three from Shekinna Stricklen.
After the game when asked if the multiple fouls called early in the quarter were due to how the Sun were playing, Jasmine Thomas responded, “We don’t control the calls. So that’s a question you would have to ask the refs,” eliciting responses of enthusiastic agreement from her teammates in the locker room.
However, after the fouls calmed down, the Sun were able to get one-stop, then another and another, turning a 17 point lead into just 10 points in five and a half minutes.
Something clicked for the Sun as the third quarter wound down, and Thomas believes it was their intensity. “We stuck with it. We started doing some things differently defensively. And it was effective and we ran with it.”
The Sun were able to carry some of their momentum from the third quarter into the fourth, pulling within four after two free throws from Williams with 5:56 left in the game.
However, the Mystics responded with a run of their own and an Ariel Atkins three to make it 85-76, would be the final dagger for Connecticut despite there being four minutes left in the game.
In the last four minutes, the Sun’s defense crumbled again, letting the Mystics lead balloon to 13 again before cutting into the deficit again.
Looking ahead to Game 2, the Sun will have to make some changes if they are going to even the series.
So what needs to change?
The Sun need to make the Mystics uncomfortable
Despite the defensive strategies they used against Washington, going big, going small, different match-ups, nothing seemed to work for Connecticut. Williams has a simple solution (in concept).
“It [our defense] wasn’t making them feel uncomfortable enough so you know we got to get back to the drawing board and just make the shots uncomfortable,” she said.
When asked how much more uncomfortable the team can make Washington, Williams simply responded, “A lot.”
If the Sun find a way to make the Mystics more uncomfortable and disrupt their well-established rhythm, the team could find themselves in a different position come Tuesday night.
Williams attributed some of their inability to make the Mystics uncomfortable to the team over-helping on their defensive assignments.
“We had a little brain farts … you know we sometimes had to stay home and we were just like over-helping. And I feel like next game We’re just gonna have to battle more and just play better one-on-one defense and not give them open shots.”
When Miller was asked a question about defending Kristi Toliver off the pick he talked generally about how and why his team needs to stop over-helping as well.
“There’s a lot of talk in this series in our locker room that we’ve got to be good one-on-one, and that doesn’t necessarily mean one-on-one with a match-up that we would love to have, it’s going to be one-on-one against mismatches or our switches, and we’ve got to get in a stance and be able to keep some of those guys in front of us because then it just plays into their penetrate-and-kick game. They’re so good at making penetrate-and-kick threes that if you over-help, they’re going to pick you apart that way.”
The Sun will need to strike a delicate balance on the thin line of over-helping in order to control the Mystics offense, however, continuing to leave Washington to take wide-open shots will not provide them with an avenue to be successful.
Connecticut needs more out of Jonquel Jones
Jones needs to step up in Game 2 for the team to be successful. Twelve points on eight shot attempts is not enough for a player who played a key role in getting the Sun to the Finals.
Miller was not too concerned about the play from his All-Star, but did acknowledge there is room for Jones to get more involved.
“I think we ran some things and she was unselfish and we got touches for her and she played out of it. At other times their switching sped us up, and we didn’t always get the ball to her when I felt like we could.”
Getting Jones more involved will take the pressure off of Thomas and Williams, who can certainly handle the pressure but shouldn’t need to put up twenty (or more) points each to keep the Sun in the game.
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