Sun lose both Alyssa Thomas to injury and game to Aces
The Connecticut Sun weren't about to let losing starter Alyssa Thomas to an early game-ending injury prevent them from winning Tuesday night's WNBA playoff semifinal.
The problem was that 2020 WNBA MVP A'ja Wilson wasn't about to let her Las Vegas Aces fall into a two-game hole.
Wilson scored five straight points with over a minute left to put top-seeded Las Vegas ahead to stay as it beat the seventh-seeded Sun in Game 2, 83-75, to tie the best-of-five series at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.
Game 3 is Thursday night at the same site at 9:30 p.m. The game will be on ESPN2.
"That was anyone's game going into the last three minutes," Connecticut head coach Curt Miller said. "We didn't play a great fourth quarter offensively, but we had them on the ropes. We just couldn't finish it."
Thomas, one of Connecticut's most indispensable players, was guarding Wilson down low. Both were bumping up against one another when Thomas suddenly grabbed her right arm and crumpled face-down on the floor just 4 minutes, 55 seconds into the game and left the court.
Thomas returned to the sidelines late in the game with her right arm in a sling. The nature of her injury was not known at press time. She's played for years with two torn labrums and missed time due to shoulder injuries.
Thomas' injury was a huge blow to the Sun. Her teammates and Miller have called her the team's "engine" over the years. She was their second-leading scorer during the regular season (15.5 ppg) and was the only player in the league to finish in the top 10 in rebounding (second, 9 rpg), assists (sixth, 4.8) and steals (first, 2 spg). She also made a strong case for the league's Defensive Player of the Year honors.
"Alyssa is the centerpiece of what we do," Miller said. "She doesn't come out much. We don't have that player playing a ton of minutes. Now we have to play a few people out of position."
Sun DeWanna Bonner said of Thomas, "That's our fire; our workhorse."
Wilson had a game-high 29 points and seven blocks with seven rebounds for the Aces (19-5).
"She was very aggressive," Miller said. "Obviously, when you take the best defender in the world off the floor, it makes it tougher. (Wilson) was aggressive off the bounce. She did a good job getting to her spots."
The game was tied when Wilson drove the lane coming out of the timeout for a layup and was fouled. Her free throw gave the Aces a 78-75 lead with 1:03 left.
Bonner threw a bad pass inside on the Sun's next possession that was stolen by Angel McCoughtry. Wilson turned it into another layup and was fouled.
Wilson missed the free throw, but Dearica Hamby (11 points) was there for the putback to push Las Vegas' lead to 82-75 with 26.8 seconds remaining.
"I'm still proud of the way we played without AT," Bonner said. "We were still in there the whole game, but we've got to execute down the stretch."
Kayla McBride added 11 points and four rebounds for the Aces and McCoughtry had 11 points and two steals.
Bonner had 23 points, seven rebounds and two steals for the Sun (12-13) and Briann January scored 20 with four rebounds. Brionna Jones added 10 points, six rebounds and two steals and Jasmine Thomas had 10 points and four assists.
Rookie center Beatrice Mompremier played over 21 minutes in Alyssa Thomas' absence. She had nine rebounds and three blocks before fouling out.
Mompremier was drafted 20th overall (second round) by the Los Angeles Sparks in August and was waived in May. Connecticut signed her in late June when All-WNBA center Jonquel Jones opted to sit out the season due to concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic. She's gradually grown into her role as her size and length gives the Sun both rebounding and rim-protection off the bench.
"She's been great," Bonner said. "Her confidence is great right now. She's doing everything we need her to do."
Las Vegas outscored Connecticut in the fourth quarter, 24-12. The Aces also turned the Sun's five fourth-quarter turnovers into eight points.
Connecticut turned it over a total of 18 times for 22 points.
"(I'm) really proud of our tenacity, our fight," Miller said. "We struggled to find an offensive rhythm in the fourth quarter. You have to give (Las Vegas) a little bit of credit. We were right there, and I know that locker room is disappointed.
"We didn't get to the finish line against them playing the way we were. We turned it over too much. As good as (the Aces) were, we hurt ourselves with turnovers."
All of our stories about the coronavirus are being provided free of charge as a service to the public. You can find all of our stories here.
You can support local journalism by subscribing to The Day.