Bahamian professional women’s basketball player Jonquel ‘JJ’ Jones and the Connecticut Sun are headed to the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) Finals – the first time for the Sun in 14 years, and just the third in franchise history.
They completed a three-game sweep of Candace Parker and the Los Angeles Sparks on Sunday, winning comfortably 78-56, at the Walter Pyramid on the campus of Long Beach State University in Long Beach, California, USA. The Sparks’ usual home court at Staples Center wasn’t available.
Jones put up limited shots and only finished with a season-low four points and eight rebounds, but her teammates picked up the slack. Point guard Jasmine Thomas was fantastic, erupting for a game-high 29 points on 11-for-14 shooting. She was 5-for-8 from distance. Her backcourt mate Courtney Williams added 17 points, 13 rebounds and four assists.
The Sparks got 17 points and six rebounds from Nneka Ogwumike. Alexis Jones came off the bench to score eight. Parker was held to just four points and three rebounds in a little over 11 minutes of play. She sat out the second quarter and took one shot in the third quarter before going to the bench with 5:54 left in that period, and didn’t return to the game.
Meanwhile, Jones and the Sun are celebrating a trip to the WNBA Finals – the first for Jones in her career.
“This is amazing,” Jones told Holly Rowe of ESPN on Sunday. “This is where we wanted to be coming into the season and it feels good to be here. We understand that we have work to do, but for now, we just want to enjoy this moment because we understand that it is a big deal.”
The Sun took their first lead of the game at the 5:11 mark of the opening quarter and went on to lead 14-11 after one. The Sparks battled back, scoring the first five points of the second quarter to retake the lead. The Sun once again surged ahead, courtesy of Thomas’ first three-point shot of the evening. Thomas made two more three-point shots in the quarter, and the Sun went on to lead 40-32 at the half. They never trailed the rest of the way, leading by as much as 19 in the third and 25 in the fourth.
The Sparks shot a woeful 2-for-21 from three-point land in the game. Meanwhile, led by Thomas’ five three-point shots, the Sun were 8-for-25. They were 43.7 percent from the field in total (31-for-71) compared to 30.7 (23-for-75) for the Sparks. The Sun also out-rebounded the Sparks, 44-34, and dished out 24 assists compared to just 11 for the Sparks.
Jones and the Sun entered the playoffs as the second seed, finishing just behind the pennant-winning Washington Mystics in the WNBA standings. They ended the season with a 23-11 win-loss record. Elena Delle Donne and the Mystics were 26-8.
Just last week, Jones finished third in the Most Valuable Player (MVP) voting behind Delle Donne and Brittney Griner of the Phoenix Mercury. It was her highest-ever finish in the MVP voting, climaxing a season in which she finished with 14.6 points per game and 9.7 rebounds per game, and led the league in rebounding for the second time in her four-year career. Ogwumike was fourth in the MVP voting.
As for the WNBA Finals, that will get underway on Sunday. The Mystics currently hold a two-games-to-one lead over the Las Vegas Aces in the other semifinal series. Game four of that series is set for tonight at 9 p.m. at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Nevada. If necessary, game five will be played on Thursday at the Entertainment and Sports Arena in Washington, DC.
Should Washington win the series, Jones and the Sun will travel to the nation’s capital for game one of the series. If the Aces win, game one of the finals will be played on the Sun’s home court – at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut.
“We understood how important it was [for us to finish the series with the Sparks early] so that we could get some rest before the next series,” said Jones. “We’re going to cherish this and try to take advantage of it. It was just about understanding that we had everything we needed to be successful. Now, we have to go into the finals and do the same thing.”
Jones, whose hometown of Holmes Rock, Grand Bahama, was ravaged by Hurricane Dorian three weeks ago, is soliciting support for The Bahamas through a GoFundMe account. She also donated privately.
An inspired Jones is hoping to lead the Sun to their first WNBA title. They won the season series against both the Mystics and the Aces, finishing with a 2-1 record against each.
The Sun earned a bye straight into the conference semis where they took on the Sparks. Jones averaged 21.5 points and 10 rebounds in the first two games of the series against the Sparks before turning in a subdued four points and six rebounds effort on Sunday. Still, they won easily and are now headed to the WNBA Finals.
The Sun lost in the second round of the playoffs to the Phoenix Mercury in each of the past two seasons. Now, they are looking to win it all.