Alyssa Thomas recorded the first triple-double in WNBA Finals history as the Sun ramped up their offense in support of their normally impressive defense to avoid elimination with 105-76 win over the Las Vegas Aces in Game 3 at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut, on Thursday. Game 4 is Sunday (4 pm ET, ESPN) in Connecticut.
Thomas, that was named to the All-WNBA second team before throwing, had 16 points, 15 rebounds and 11 assists as the Suns moved to 4-0 in elimination games this postseason. Thomas has three career triples with the first two coming earlier this season (July 22 vs. Minnesota and Aug. 2 vs. Phoenix).
“We put the ball in her hands a lot tonight, and when things work out as a coach, you feel really good that you pushed some of the right buttons,” Suns coach Curt Miller said. “But she’s so selfless. You know, her and Candace [Parker] are the two best facilitating forwards in the world, and it’s really fun to watch non-point guards share it. And tonight, she just sprayed the ball all night, and it was amazing to watch.”
Jonquel Jones got her way in the paint to score 20 points, but the tradeoff was four fouls that limited her to 25 minutes. The Sun finished the game on a 19-0 run.
The Sun finally found their shots, and those shots fell in the first half. The Sun set a Playoff record by shooting 82.4% in the first quarter, which was also the highest-scoring first quarter in Playoff history. Connecticut closed the first quarter on a 25-4 run.
For the game, Connecticut 55.8% and 53.3% (8 of 15) from 3-point range. The Sun had 38 rebounds and 32 assists on 43 made field goals.
DeWanna Bonner, who scored just five points in the first two games of the series combined, scored nine points in the first half of Game 3. She finished with 18. Her offense was badly needed.
Bonner also changed her defensive assignment, trying to slow down the Aces’ Chelsea Gray. It worked, as Gray only found success mostly when Bonner was on the bench.
There were flashes where the Aces looked like they would take control of the game. Gray reeled off three straight 3-pointers near the end of the first half and the Aces finished the second quarter on an 8-0 run capped by Kelsey Plum’s buzzer-beater.
In the second half, however, the Sun was the team in control. Jackie Young led the Aces with 22 points, while A’ja Wilson added 19.
The Sun had a 23-point lead in the first half, the largest lead of either team in the series (the Sun won by a close 29-point margin but that was after both benches were emptied with the game out of reach). Connecticut had 19 assists on 21 made field goals in the first half, and pulled down 18 rebounds (16 on the defensive end).
How the Sun won Game 3
Miller’s defensive adjustments made all the difference. Miller tapped the length of Bonner to try to slow Gray and her amazing postseason run. It worked. Gray did not score after halftime.
“Chelsea Gray’s numbers are historic right now in contested shots. So we’re excited to go into tonight, two games, 27 of her 33 shots in this series have been contested, 27 contested shots,” Miller said. “So we stayed in place with her, trying to make it difficult for them, but she has an incredible release point and an incredible knack for scoring on contests. So we decided a little bit longer on her, and we knew everybody was going to guard her, everybody was going to guard her tonight . But we’ll give her some time.”
Bonner’s all-around play and the home crowd support was just what the Sun needed to force at least one more game. Bonner struggled offensively earlier in the series, something Jones talked to her about before Thursday.
Jones’ MVP-level play and Thomas’ triple-double can’t be discounted either. The all-round team effort was rewarded. The Sun could have stolen Game 1 in Vegas and were confident after the three-point loss. Their outing in Game 3 was what was expected in Game 2, but didn’t materialize.
How the Aces can rebound in Game 4
Now, it’s up to the Aces to make defensive adjustments if they want to win their first title in franchise history. Las Vegas is known for its offense, but it first needs to get stops when Connecticut gets rolling.
“I’ve got a crew like that over there. I won’t have to say much,” Aces coach Becky Hammon said. “Go back. Look at ways we can exploit what they’re doing and go throw the ball. This game was about physicality and mental toughness, and they smoked us on it, period. The physicality comes next, but the mental for them was there. and not us.”
There were glimpses in Game 3 where the Aces were able to get back on track and close out the series. Each time, though, the Sun kept pushing the ball in. The Sun scored a Finals record 64 points in the paint; the Aces had just 26.
“That was just, I guess, the MO of the playoffs, right. Like even the Chicago series, the team that won the paint won the game. That’s where it’s done,” Jones said. “You know, I think a long time ago, I talked to Lisa Leslie and she said, ‘To win the championship, you have to win the paint.’ I see it now and I feel it now and being a veteran now, I definitely can go back on that and say she was right.”
WNBA Playoffs schedule
Game 1: Las Vegas 67, Connecticut 64
Game 2: Las Vegas 85, Connecticut 71
Game 3: Connecticut 105, Las Vegas 76 (Aces lead 2-1)
* — if necessary