The Connecticut Sun wanted a sweep of their WNBA first-round series against the Minnesota Lynx. But having to go the distance and win a decisive Game 3 on the road Wednesday brought out the best in Sun standouts Alyssa Thomas and DeWanna Bonner.
They led the way in a 90-75 victory at Target Center in Minneapolis as the Sun advanced to the WNBA semifinals for the fifth consecutive year.
"The common denominator in all of them is Alyssa Thomas," Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said of the forward who has spent her 10-season career in Connecticut. "I don't know of a player with a greater will to win. That's a player who just puts her team on her back. I'm super excited that I get a chance to be on her side when we are with USA Basketball."
Reeve will be coach of the U.S. national team for the 2024 Olympics. Thomas has not played on an Olympic team yet, although she was on the U.S. team that won the FIBA World Cup last year. Thomas has had an MVP-level season this year in the WNBA, and her performance Wednesday was more of the same.
She scored or assisted on 58 points, the most ever in a WNBA playoff game. Thomas had 28 points, 12 assists and 6 rebounds. Bonner had 25 points, 10 rebounds and 6 assists. The two combined to score or assist on 79 of the Sun's 90 points (87.8%). According to Elias Sports Bureau, the only pair of WNBA teammates to combine for a higher percentage of points scored or assisted on in a playoff game were Cynthia Cooper and Sheryl Swoopes of the Houston Comets in 1999 (88.9%) and 1998 (88.2%).
Bonner, who played her first 10 seasons with the Phoenix Mercury before going to the Sun in 2020, became the third WNBA player to reach 1,000 points and 500 rebounds in the playoffs, joining Tamika Catchings and Candace Parker.
Stephanie White, in her first season with the Sun and the WNBA's Coach of the Year this season, said of Thomas and Bonner, "They're two players who aren't afraid of moments or to make big plays. They've just continued to rise to the challenge."
Connecticut scored 255 points in its series with the Lynx, the most in franchise history in a three-game playoff series.
The No. 3 seed Sun next face the No. 2 seed New York Liberty, with Game 1 at 1 p.m. ET Sunday (ESPN/ESPN App) at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. The Liberty swept the regular-season series with the Sun 4-0, with their Aug. 24 game being decided in overtime. The Liberty are the only team the Sun did not defeat in the regular season.
"The biggest thing for us is we have to give them different looks, try to keep them off-balance," said White, who coached the Indiana Fever to the WNBA Finals in 2015. "We have to decide what are we willing to give up, and what do we have to take away. We've got to rebound the basketball.
"It's no secret our size is an issue. So our discipline has to be great, and our attention to detail. Offensively, we have to make them work and find ways against their length, speed and athleticism to get good looks."
ESPN Stats & Information contributed to this report.