(Uncasville, Conn.) — Before the visiting Las Vegas Aces tipped off against the Connecticut Sun on Tuesday, the WNBA announced the stakes: a berth in the 2021 playoffs. Entering the contest at a raucous Mohegan Sun Arena with 17 wins and six losses apiece, the battle for an 18th victory meant joining the Seattle Storm in the postseason; Seattle tallied its 18th win in a hard-fought edging of the Washington Mystics on Sunday. But three losses since the Olympic break gave the defending-champion Storm their eighth loss and dropped first-year head coach Noelle Quinn’s team to third place in the standings behind both the Sun (now 18-6) and the Aces (now 17-7).
So, not only did the scrappy Sun, led by MVP candidate Jonquel Jones, Most Improved Player candidate Brionna Jones and three-time WNBA champion DeWanna Bonner secure a ticket to the postseason, they climbed to first place in the WNBA standings heading into the crucial final weeks of the regular season in which the battle for playoff seeding will be fierce. Here’s a look at some of the sights, sounds and stats from Connecticut’s rousing win over the Aces on a night that just wasn’t A’ja Wilson’s (or Liz Cambage’s, Kelsey Plum’s and the rest of the squad donning red and black).
Connecticut gets 76-62 win with balanced effort
DeWanna Bonner came up big on both sides of the ball: flirting with a double-double and stuffing the stat sheet.
Bonner by the numbers:
- 18 points
- 9 rebounds
- 4 assists
- 3 steals
Bonner also was perfect from the free-throw line and shot 40% from 3-point range and 38.9% from the field.
But the Sun’s win was a true team effort.
Briann January put on perhaps her best performance of the season, scoring a game-high 19 points on a remarkable 70% shooting from the field and equally outstanding 50% shooting from 3-point range.
January also recorded three assists, three steals and two rebounds en route to giving Aces guard Kelsey Plum fits all night.
Plum grew frustrated after being assessed with a flagrant foul late into the second quarter. For the game, she was held scoreless from 3-point point range on two attempts and shot an unusually low 28.6% from the field on seven attempts.
But Plum wasn’t the only Aces star who seemed uncharacteristically out of sorts.
A’ja Wilson turned in the worst offensive performance of her career, making just one-of-15 field-goal attempts for a 6.7% shooting night.
Half of her points came at the free-throw line.
Wilson by the numbers:
- 5 rebounds
- 4 points
- 2 assists
- 1 block
Until her career-low four-point performance, Wilson had scored in double figures for 53 consecutive games.
Chelsea Gray, with a team-high scoring performance, did her best to the pick up the slack. And she had help from Liz Cambage and Dearica Hamby, who scored 13 points apiece. Cambage also pulled down six boards (though she is capable of double-digit rebounding) on the defensive end (though she has built a name for herself as a stalwart on the offensive glass, giving any team she plays for a multitude of second-chance shot attempts). She also recorded two steals and one block. But her four personal fouls (one of them a technical) disrupted her ability to find a rhythm, and she turned the ball over three times.
Hamby, meanwhile, added three rebounds, two steals and a block.
Gray by the numbers:
- 15 points
- 4 rebounds
- 3 assists
- 1 steal
Jonquel Jones had a quiet offensive performance, with eight points. But her 10 rebounds helped the Sun out-rebound the Aces, 39-30. Additionally, Connecticut turned the ball over 11 times (to Las Vegas’ 14 lost possessions), secured 11 steals (to Las Vegas’ 6) and outscored Las Vegas 11-3 in second-chance points.
And in another remarkable performance for the Sun, Brionna Jones — on 55.6% shooting from the field — showed once again why she is an integral part of Connecticut’s offense and defense:
B. Jones by the numbers:
- 15 points
- 8 rebounds
- 4 steals
- 1 assist
Connecticut showed in their playoff-clenching performance why they, not Las Vegas, clenched a playoff spot Tuesday night. And it illustrated the reason the team seems to be peaking at the right time: chemistry.
The Connecticut core, with Alyssa Thomas asserting herself as an ever-present part of the team on the sidelines while rehabbing an Achilles injury that has ruled her out from the season, is solid. And role players Natisha Heideman, Kaila Charles, Beatrice Mompremier and DiJonai Carrington add layers and depth that bode well for the Sun to make a deep playoff run.
However, the Sun have one problem, and it’s a big one: the Seattle Storm.
Seattle earned a three-game sweep over Connecticut in the teams’ regular-season series.
Aside from their three-point loss on May 25 (90-87), the Sun struggled even to avoid blowouts against the Storm, let alone eke out victories. They were blown out by 23 points on June 13 and lost by 22 points in the Commissioner’s Cup game on August 12. Head coach Curt Miller and his staff will need to study film from Seattle’s recent losses to find flaws in a team that otherwise has been functioning as a well-oiled machine.
The Aces, meanwhile, have some of the most dominant players in the league — four of whom won gold medals at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics — and a WNBA title-winning head coach in Bill Laimbeer. Yet, the inconsistent play that sometimes beleaguers the Aces appeared at the wrong time, leading to Wilson scoring a career low and begging the question of whether Las Vegas needs more chemistry, more joy or more of both.
Simply put, the Aces do not seem to be having fun. And during player introductions, Cambage appeared disinterested, at best.
With some arguing that she is incapable of playing with Wilson — and reading the tea leaves on the fact that her teammates were not in attendance at her glitzy 30th birthday bash in Los Angeles (whether they were uninvited or declined the invitation) — the Aces seem to have deeper issues to fix than scouting one team they struggled against this season.
The Aces had the same amount of rest as the Sun heading into the game and arrived in Connecticut a day early to beat Hurricane Henri. Yet, they put on one of their worst performances of the season when they needed their best. However, they made it into the playoffs on Wednesday because of a New York Liberty loss.