Uncasville, Conn. – The Connecticut Sun held off a furious Washington Mystics comeback to pull out a 90-86 WNBA Finals Game 4 win Tuesday and force a deciding fifth game.
Jonquel Jones led Connecticut’s five starters in double figures with 18 points and 13 rebounds, while Alyssa Thomas scored 17 points and dished 11 assists.
The Sun started fast, taking an early lead that they ran up to a Finals record 32 points at the end of the first quarter, as the Mystics scored only 17 points. The continued to push the pace in the second, and had a 16-point lead at halftime.
Washington opened the third period on a 13-2 run, and it was a dog fight the rest of the way.
Connecticut’s late-game lockdown defense ultimately sealed the win, as they held their opponents scoreless for five straight possessions over the last 2:10 of play. They also made 3 of 4 free throws to pad their lead.
The Mystics crashed the boards, limiting Sun touches, then found their shooting touch, hitting back-to-back to back three’s around defensive stops to cut the lead to a single point with five minutes still left in the third period.
Connecticut fought the lead back to nine, but Washington responded again, tying the game on their final possession of the third, 68-68. The Mystics dominated the quarter by shooting 10-15 from the field, (3-6 from three), and winning the rebound battle 9-7. The Sun were just 4-17, and looked rattled on offense.
When the visitors opened the fourth quarter on fire offensively, running out to a seven-point lead, things looked bleak for the home team. But Connecticut refused to fade away. Their defense produced some stops, and they scored nearly every running opportunity, as they had all game. They tied the game at 77 with a 7-0 run.
“We got back to playing like we did in the first quarter,” Alyssa Thomas said. “We got anything we wanted. We attacked them, we moved them, which we didn’t do in the last game. So it just came down to us just being composed, and having some shots go in.”
Mid-quarter, the teams traded blow after blow, with 4 lead changes and 5 ties between 5:35 and 2:10.
With three minutes left, Jasmine Thomas and Shekinna Stricklen hit threes on consecutive possessions, giving the Sun an 87-84 lead at 2:22. A Natasha Cloud drive made it 87-86, but the hosts marshaled their defense and held on for the win.
Ariel Powers led five Washington players in double figures, with 15 points.
Connecticut coach Curt Miller promised to get Jones, who scored only nine points in Game 3, more touches in Game 4, and the Sun executed that plan, for the most part.
“We went stretches without her touching it, which was frustrating, but her activity never stopped,” Miller said. “I thought she was really active around the glass, even when she wasn’t touching.”
“I thought she screened better tonight, and then we got her touches when we needed in the fourth quarter to get a rim run. . . . “We got in the middle of the floor and got her more touches down the stretch, and I think it was really, really important, since we went stretches at times without her getting touches.”
Those touches were a key to surviving the fourth quarter, as Jones scored or assisted on seven of her team’s 22 fourth period points.
Mystics coach Mike Thibault made no excuses for his team.
“Well, let’s start with the opening tip when we were lined up wrong and Alyssa Thomas laid it in on the opening tip,” he said. “That would be a bad start.”
“And then letting them have four offensive rebounds in the first quarter. They got to the free-throw line. . . . I felt we did about everything we could do wrong in the first quarter. I thought our team is known for passing and cutting and screening. It’s not known for having 15 dribbles per possession. I thought that’s what we did in the first quarter.”
Thomas’ less obvious contribution was on defense, however, as she guarded Elena Delle Donne one-on-one all game. Though still playing with a herniated disc, Delle Donne moved much better than she had in Game 3, and finished with 11 points.
The teams return to Washington D.C. for the championship game at 8 p.m. ET Thursday. Expect another classic battle between two teams who have reached here playing some of the best playoff basketball the WNBA has ever seen.
Although the first quarter has predicted the outcome in each game so far, do not expect that to happen in Game 5. Both teams know what is at stake, and both are likely to be intensely focused from the tip. It should be fun.
Washington still has the better team on paper. But things have changed as these games have been played, and the outcome is no more certain than any of the four games leading up to the finale.
“I just think we have to start off better,” Powers said. “We were down 16 going into halftime.”
“We came out in the first two minutes and we were down 10. We went on a 6-0 run, had four stops. We have to come out with that aggressiveness in the first half, starting from the starting tip, come out with that aggressiveness, and I think it would have been a different outcome for us. So we have to do that Thursday.”
Jasmine Thomas said forcing a fifth game was “everything” to her and her team.
“Just how hard we fight, how much this means to us, we talked about this whole playoff time like us being disrespected and people thinking we’re just going to give up easy, and we’re not,” she said. “We’re going to fight every single second because we deserve to win a championship, as well.”
Even now, it appears that most predict a Mystics victory. Asked how that could still be true after this series in which each team has won on the other’s home court, Alyssa Thomas returned the Connecticut theme of “disrespeCT.”
“They haven’t been watching the league all year,” she said. “We’ve been doing this all season. We’re the two seed for a reason.”
“And, I mean, there’s one last game. We took it to game five, then it’s just time to finish it.”