How Jonquel Jones took over Game 2 -- and maybe the WNBA Finals

WASHINGTON -- Jonquel Jones was the deciding factor throughout the Connecticut Sun's Game 2 victory Tuesday in the WNBA Finals, and it only figured she had the game's final word, too.

But after draining a 3-pointer with less than 8 seconds to play, the 6-foot-6 forward didn't bother celebrating or cracking a smile. She was running back on defense before the ball even went through the basket.

Ever since failing to grab a single offensive rebound in Sunday's Game 1 loss, Jones was determined to avenge her struggles with a better effort when the series resumed.

And boy, did she ever.

Jones grabbed 18 rebounds, including a record-breaking nine offensive boards, and scored 32 points as Connecticut evened the series with a 99-87 win over the Washington Mystics on the road. The first player in WNBA Finals history to record a 30-15 game, Jones joins a small list of basketball greats to do so in a championship series, including LeBron James in a 2016 NBA Finals win.

Washington's Elena Delle Donne left in the first quarter due to a back injury and never returned. The MVP's absence and uncertainty for the rest of the series -- she was expected to undergo an MRI on Wednesday -- overshadowed everything else Tuesday. But Jones -- nicknamed "The Bahamian Beast" by ESPN analyst Rebecca Lobo during Tuesday's broadcast in reference to Jones' native country -- has had a breakout season and cemented it for any remaining non-believer with a statement performance on the sport's biggest stage.

"I think I just got on the offensive glass a lot, and that allowed me to really get everything else going," Jones, 25, said after the game. "Obviously my teammates were looking for me, and we talked about getting me the ball more in Game 2, and I just wanted to deliver.

"Honestly, I just want to keep my confidence. I feel like people think it dwindles, but it doesn't. I believe in myself, and I know [my teammates] believe in me."

Jones has started every game this season, averaging 14.6 points and nearly 10 rebounds in the regular season, and proved herself to be an integral part of the Sun a year after predominately coming off the bench as the 2018 WNBA Sixth Woman of the Year. She earned a spot in the All-Star Game for the second time earlier this summer, and was named to the WNBA's All-Defensive First Team last month.

Off the court, she's led efforts to help the Bahamas after the devastation of Hurricane Dorian in August. In addition to donating $10,000, the GoFundMe page she created has raised nearly $50,000 in just over a month. She's spoken several times about basketball providing her with a good distraction from the situation at home.

On Tuesday, Jones couldn't have looked more comfortable on the floor at the Entertainment & Sports Arena. Despite a sold-out, animated crowd largely cheering against the Sun, she managed to do everything her teammates needed. The Sun's lack of big-name players is a frequent talking point, but Jones appeared every bit the superstar as she walked into a room packed with reporters with teammates Courtney Williams and Jasmine Thomas after the game.

Wearing street clothes, the trio looked more than ready for their moment in the spotlight. Williams greeted everyone with a "Whatsup, beautiful people?" before heaping on the praise about Jones.

"Man, J.J. was going crazy today," Williams said. "I told her, I felt like I could put the ball up from half court and she was going to look out for me and get the rebound. That's huge when she has that mindset to go get every ball, every rebound. So that was huge for us."

Despite having five fouls, Jones remained in the game down the stretch and helped the Sun hold off a late rally by the Mystics. After watching Connecticut's 12-point lead evaporate as Washington tied the score at 76 in the fourth quarter, it was Jones who led her team to take back control and seal the victory. She scored the tiebreaking shot soon after, and the Sun never looked back.

The Mystics felt the void of Delle Donne's absence. She and Jones frequently match up on both sides of the floor.

"Elena herself is one of the better defensive rebounders in the league," Washington coach Mike Thibault said. "You're not going to hold Jonquel off the whole series but she got zero in [Game 1]. If you watch the tape, Elena was almost textbook in her blockouts on Jonquel. Tonight I thought we were trying to rebound with our head under the rim, and you don't get very many defensive rebounds that way."

Jones scored 21 points while being guarded by Emma Meesseman, who replaced Delle Donne defensively for much of the game.

But the Sun aren't focused on Delle Donne's return or who might be defending Jones. They have never cared much about the spotlight or attention. They thrive on the self-perceived #DisrespeCT and relish their role as underdogs. They just want to play their best basketball, and it seems most of them believe that starts with Jones.

"I don't think we were shy talking about we had to play through J.J. more," said Sun coach Curt Miller as he discussed her ability to create her own offensive opportunities and find much-needed second chances.

Jones didn't disagree.

"We're a team [who] just get really hype off other's success, and tonight it was me," she said in an on-court interview right after the win. "And I think I can carry that on the rest of the series."

Many Connecticut players were quick to express their disappointment and best wishes to Delle Donne, but they were still pleased to have accomplished what they set out to do when they boarded their flight to the nation's capital last week: win a game on the road. The Sun head back to Connecticut with momentum very much on their side and more than four days to prepare for Sunday's Game 3 (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET) in front of their own adoring fans.

They know the Mystics are looking for revenge -- Washington guard Kristi Toliver said her team was "pissed off enough" to match the Sun's physicality going forward -- and they will have to be ready for that. But Jones' teammates know how crucial she is to their success -- and recognize she'll need to do what she did in Game 2 again during the series if the Sun want to raise their first WNBA championship trophy.

"I mean if she is playing like that, we are that much more dangerous," forward Alyssa Thomas said. "This is the Finals and we need everybody's best games. This is it."