She had the first triple-double in WNBA Finals history Thursday when the Sun beat the Las Vegas Aces 105-76 in Game 3 of the best of five series after losing the first two games out on the famous Strip. If anyone thought the Suns would roll for an Aces ballad … well, no one who follows the WNBA thought so. It’s just not the Sun’s personality.
They lost a close Game 1 on Sunday and a not-so-close Game 2 on Tuesday at Michelob Ultra Arena in Las Vegas. But back home at Mohegan Sun Arena in front of their fans, the Sun summoned the mojo they needed to force Game 4, which will be this Sunday here in Connecticut (4 p.m. ET, ESPN).
“If you could encapsulate Connecticut, it’s physical and very resilient,” Aces coach Becky Hammon said of the Sun. “They have kind of a battle-type mentality, and we didn’t match that tonight, in any category. They just kicked our butt in every way.”
Of Thomas, who finished with 16 points, 15 rebounds and 11 assists, Hammon said, “She’s a beast. I went to a UFC fight the other night; I wouldn’t want to get in the cage with her. She’s just tough. Tough, tough , tough. And then a player.”
The 6-foot-2 Thomas, 30, was the No. 4 pick in the 2014 WNBA draft out of Maryland, which she led to the women’s Final Four her senior year.
Thomas is a difficult — if not impossible — player to compare to anyone else in the WNBA. Her long-standing shoulder injuries (torn labrums in both that have not been surgically repaired) prevent her from having an actual jump shot, but that doesn’t matter. Thomas has found her own ways to get the ball into the hoop, and she is so crafty and strong that it is hard to stop her.
Thomas is essentially a point forward, with how much she handles the ball and looks to create opportunities for her teammates. And bounce back? Well, as Hammon said, there’s nothing about Thomas that makes you think you’re going to outmuscle or outmuscle her.
“What’s remarkable is that it’s every day. She doesn’t know how else to play,” Sun coach Curt Miller said of Thomas’ energy. “She’s probably the hardest player I’ve ever coached, but she’s the most consistent player in terms of effort that I’ve ever been around.”
Consistency was lacking in some respects for the Sun in the first two games of the Final, which put them in a win-or-go-home situation. But they faced that in the first round when they had to go to Dallas to close out a best-of-three series in both the semifinals and when they defeated defending champion Chicago twice on the Sky’s home field, including in the decisive Game 5.
On Thursday, the Aces got off to a 9-2 start, but that was the extent of their control of this game. As if a switch had been flipped, the Sun’s energy level exploded and they led 34-19 after the first quarter. By the end of the game, all of the Suns’ starters had scored in double figures, led by the 2021 MVP. Jonquel Jones with 20 points.
But the star of the night was Thomas, whose triple-double was her third of the season, also a WNBA record. There have been 19 triple-doubles in WNBA history — three in the playoffs, the others by Chicago. Courtney Vandersloot and Houston’s Sheryl Swoopes — but they’re becoming far less rare than they used to be. Eight of the 19 came this season, and two were last season.
That reflects more positionless play that the WNBA sees just like the NBA. In Thomas’ case, it’s about her ability to be able to play both as a true position but also as someone who can float around and just do things for herself or her teammates.
And on a night when the Sun’s season could be over, Thomas led the way willing it to continue.
“For me, I approached the game like I approached any other game,” Thomas said. “I think we just wanted it. We struggled offensively. We didn’t really hit shots and tonight we came out ready.”