In a WNBA season filled with exciting narratives, the Connecticut Sun have flown under the radar all the way to a Finals match-up against the favorites, the Washington Mystics and their MVP Elena Delle Donne.
A contender for the past several seasons, the Sun looked ready to take a step back at the beginning of this summer following the departure of star Chiney Ogwumike. 2018 Sixth Woman of the Year Jonquel Jones moved into the starting slot vacated by Ogwumike; stepping up to provide the play and leadership that would help earn the Sun an improved 23-11 record, and a shot at stealing a championship from the Washington Mystics.
The Sun swept the Los Angeles Sparks (fittingly, Ogwumike’s new team) out of their semifinals match-up, seemingly with great ease as the Sparks suffered a late series meltdown featuring their entire starting line-up getting benched down the stretch of an elimination game. But as Derek Fisher’s team crumpled, Curt Miller’s Sun shone. 4 different Sun players scored 20 or more points during the Sun’s match-up against the Sparks; Jonquel Jones, Jasmine Thomas, Courtney Williams, and Alyssa Thomas (who recorded 22 points, 10 rebounds and 5 assists in Game 1 while playing through injury). During the regular season, the Sun’s offense seemed overly dependent on Jonquel Jones, putting up an offensive rating of 103.6 with Jones on the court, against a measly 89.4 with her riding the pine, which would be last in the league. However, in the playoffs the Sun have shown that they’re capable of dominating teams even on Jonquel Jones’ off scoring nights, such as in Game 3 when she only put up 4 points in 28 minutes.
Even with the Sun stepping it up against the Sparks, the Mystics remain heavy favorites to win the title with the multiple record breaking efficiency based offense anchored in Elena Delle Donne, the MVP and first 50/40/90 shooter in WNBA history. While the Sun ranked 3rd in offensive rating during the regular season, they still trail Washington by 12.6 points per 100 possessions. The Sun did actually take the season series with the Mystics 2-1, though one of their wins came when the Mystics were without Delle Donne, and in their most recent match-up, the Mystics blew the Sun out 102-59. Obviously, the trick to beating the Mystics is to contain Elena Delle Donne on the offensive end, which is a tall, imposing task. The Sun were able to hold Delle Donne to 13 points on 0-3 shooting from the three point line during their match-up on June 11th, so theoretically, the Sun’s front court have a blueprint for disrupting the Mystic’s offense and limiting high quality shots for the Delle Devil on the perimeter. What’s concerning
for Connecticut fans is that the Sun weren’t able to lock down Delle Donne when they met again at the end of June. The Sun also haven’t had to face the challenge of defending both Delle Donne and teammate Emma Meesseman, who has been on an absolute scoring tear so far in the playoffs.
One area in which the Sun have thrived this season is forcing turnovers and turning them into points at the other end. During the regular season, the Sun averaged 8.9 steals per game, second in the league, though they’ve lead the league in SPG in the playoffs. The Sun lead the league in points off the fast break (11.7 per game), while scoring 17.4 points off turnovers per game, trailing only the Minnesota Lynx. The Sun are excellent at turning defense into offense, and if the Mystics get sloppy, there’s room in there for the Sun to get a scoring run off. But that’s a big if, the Mystics offense thrives on efficiency and precision. The Mystics turned the ball over only 11.8 times per game this season, the least turnovers in the WNBA by a considerable margin. When they did turn the ball over, the Mystics have been absurdly excellent at transition defense, allowing the fewest points off turnovers (11.9 per game) and fewest points off fast breaks (6.1 per game).
There is a chance that the Connecticut Sun can shock the world by stealing the WNBA title from the Washington Mystics. All it would take is them containing the most efficient scorer in WNBA history, and disrupting the most efficient offense in WNBA history. And who knows, it’s the Finals. Impossible things can happen.
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All stats taken from Basketball-Reference, or stats.wnba.com, unless otherwise noted.
Dani Bar-Lavi is a comedian, writer, and guest contributor to SportsAreFromVenus. You can find them on Twitter @dblfluidity.