Connecticut guard Jasmine Thomas has been dealing with a foot injury and hadn't scored more than 22 points in a WNBA game this season. Still, the Sun insisted no one was surprised at Thomas taking over Sunday's 87-62 Game 1 victory against Las Vegas in the WNBA semifinals with a career-high 31 points.
"I mean, we all know she's capable of it," Sun forward Alyssa Thomas said. "As our point guard, she tries to get everyone else involved. She knows when it's time for her to take over."
OK, sure, she's capable of it, but the fact that Jasmine Thomas stepped forward and owned this game start to finish was a big deal. She set the tone for the Sun, who as the No. 7 seed beat No. 6 Chicago and No. 3 Los Angeles in single-elimination games before giving Connecticut a 1-0 lead in a best-of-five series against No. 1 Las Vegas in Bradenton, Florida. Game 1 of the Minnesota-Seattle semifinals was postponed after there were inconclusive COVID-19 test results for some Storm players.
Jasmine Thomas was 13-of-18 from the field (72%) on Sunday, but she also seemed to treat it like another day at the office.
"It's always good when you feel like you're playing good basketball at the right time," she said. "We feel like we have good momentum. You take this win, you're proud of it, and then you let it go.
"We know that Vegas is a great team. There's a reason they're No. 1, a reason they have the MVP (A'ja Wilson). They have great players over there and great coaching. They'll make adjustments, and we've got to be ready to stay focused and play just as hard and tough next game."
Thomas, whose previous game high was 30 points in August 2018, was a starter on last season's WNBA Finals team and is in her 10th WNBA season out of Duke.
"Just so happy for her," Sun coach Curt Miller said. "We struggled at times offensively, and the way they chose to defend her was going to give her some longer [2-point] pull-ups. Then she got into a zone; it's fun to coach players when they get that way."
Las Vegas had the double bye into the semifinals and had not played since Sept. 13. Maybe that accounted for some of the Aces' sluggishness, but mostly the credit went to Connecticut.
"You could tell from the early part of the game we really didn't have cohesiveness about our offense," Las Vegas coach Bill Laimbeer said. "We just didn't play well offensively. It was a little more physical than normal, but that's playoff basketball. We didn't handle it very well."
Wilson had 19 points and Jackie Young 17, but as a team the Aces shot 33.8% from the field.
They lost just four games all season, two to Chicago by two points each and two to Phoenix, both by seven. They beat Connecticut twice in the regular season. But Sunday, Las Vegas seemed to get frustrated early by the Sun's defense and its own misses, and then began forcing up uncharacteristic shots. The Aces didn't look at all like the team that had won six in a row coming into the playoffs.
"I think we needed to get beat. They worked 10 times harder than we did, and we needed that slap in the face." A'ja Wilson on Las Vegas' loss Sunday to Connecticut
"I think we needed to get beat," Wilson said bluntly. "They worked 10 times harder than we did, and we needed that slap in the face. We have to go back to the drawing board and see what we did wrong, what we can improve on, and go from there. The best thing about this loss is there's a lot of things we can control, and that's what we're going to do."
Bonner's offense off, but rest of her game wasn't
DeWanna Bonner was the Sun's leading scorer at 19.7 points per game during the regular season, but it wasn't her day offensively Sunday against the Aces. It didn't matter because Connecticut ran away with the game. She was 2-of-12 from the field for eight points, but she also added eight rebounds and four assists.
It was just the third time this season that Bonner didn't score in double figures; the other two were back-to-back games Aug. 4-6.
"We couldn't get her going from the field," Miller said. "But she still draws a lot of attention, and that helps your offense. She was defending, she was an important rotator to rebound. Her stat line doesn't show you what it typically does, but she's so important to what we do. Got a lot of deflections; just her length was a problem at times for them."
Bonner won two championships in her decade in Phoenix, and she is hoping to help get the Sun their first title.
Lynx and Storm in waiting game
While everyone waits on the subsequent results of further testing of the Seattle players who had inconclusive COVID-19 results, perhaps Minnesota will get some benefit of the extra time since Sunday's game was postponed. The Lynx won their second-round game against Phoenix on Thursday, and center Sylvia Fowles made her first appearance since Aug. 13 because of a calf injury.
She played 18 minutes, getting six points and four rebounds, but she clearly (and understandably) wasn't back to her old self yet. Fowles was listed as questionable for Sunday's game, and now she has a couple of extra days to rest and prepare if the teams do play Tuesday.
The Storm are prepared to face the different challenges the Lynx present with and without Fowles.
"Syl is their paint presence; she dominates the paint and they look for her," Seattle's Alysha Clark said. "When she's not on the floor, they're a lot more free-flowing, almost like a five-out type of thing.
"She's going to be in the Hall of Fame one day, and she demands attention. When she's off the floor, then there's a lot more communication [for defenders]. They are more of a set-type team when she's in there. They're almost two different teams."
Connecticut's depth stands out
The Aces were known as having the best bench in the WNBA this season. But Sunday, the Sun's reserves were good, too, with Natisha Hiedeman leading the way with 14 points off the bench.
And while the Sun are a veteran team where the rookies don't necessarily get a lot of attention, two stood out in their first playoff game Sunday.
Beatrice Mompremier, the No. 20 selection in April's draft out of Miami, and Kaila Charles, the No. 23 pick from Maryland, combined for seven points and 13 rebounds, and both contributed to the defense that frustrated Las Vegas. Charles was a second-round pick by Connecticut, while Mompremier was Los Angeles' pick, but the Sparks cut her. Especially with the 6-foot-6 Jonquel Jones sitting out this season for Connecticut, the 6-foot-4 Mompremier has been a good pick up for the Sun.
"I feel she has grown so much from training camp, where she was like you'd expect a rookie to be -- picking up a lot at one time," Jasmine Thomas said of Mompremier. "I think now you're seeing what she's capable of doing. She's a force in there defensively, and she has good touch on her shots. We're excited about how she's playing right now."