For the first time in seven years, the Connecticut Sun have won a playoff game in the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA), and now they find themselves just two wins away from advancing to the finals.
Bahamian professional Jonquel “JJ” Jones was playing with a heavy heart, given the destruction and devastation caused by Hurricane Dorian to the northern Bahamas a little over two weeks ago. Jones’ home community of Holmes Rock, Grand Bahama was ravaged by the deadly hurricane.
Wanting to turn in a strong performance for her country, Jones responded with 16 huge points, seven rebounds and two assists in the Sun’s playoff opener this year. They defeated the Los Angeles Sparks, 84-75, at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut, USA, on Tuesday night, taking a one-game-to-none lead in the best-of-five semifinal series.
The Sparks knocked off the defending champions Seattle Storm in the second round of the playoffs to advance to the semis, and the second-seeded Sun earned a bye straight into the semis.
As for Tuesday night’s game, the Sun got out to a fast start, taking a 21-14 lead after the first quarter, but they fell behind 40-37 at the half. A trio of three-pointers to open the third – two from Shekinna Stricklen and the other from Jasmine Thomas – gave the Sun a 46-40 lead with 8:29 to go in the quarter. The lead got to seven before the Sparks battled back to take the lead, going ahead 52-51 on a turnaround hook shot by Nneka Ogwumike with 3:21 remaining in the third quarter. The game went back and forth for the rest of the quarter, with the Sun taking a 59-58 lead at the end of three.
The fourth quarter belonged to the Sun as the Sparks never led again. Jones was huge during a four-minute span in the fourth, scoring eight points including a pair of three-pointers, in a 12-6 scoring spurt for the Sun. Her second three-point shot of the quarter gave the Sun a 73-66 lead with four minutes remaining. The Sparks got no closer than five the rest of the way.
The Sun forced the Sparks into 17 turnovers and Los Angeles’ starting backcourt of Riquna Williams and Chelsea Gray went a combined 3-for-17 from the floor.
Point guard Alyssa Thomas had 22 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and four steals to lead a balanced Connecticut offense. Jasmine Thomas scored 19 points to go along with eight assists, Jones added 16 and Courtney Williams dropped in 15 points, seven rebounds and five assists for the Sun.
Candace Parker had a game-high 24 points on 10-for-14 shooting for the Sparks. She pulled down 10 rebounds and added six blocks and three assists. Her frontcourt mate Nneka Ogwumike had 20 points on 9-for-13 shooting, and added 10 rebounds and three assists. No other player scored in double figures for the Sparks. The other Ogwumike, younger sister Chiney, was held to just four points in her return to Connecticut. This was Chiney Ogwumike’s first playoff game in Connecticut since the former Sun star was traded to the Sparks in the offseason.
This is the Sun’s first trip to the WNBA semifinals since the 2012 season – the last time they won a playoff game. They played just two playoff games since, losing to Phoenix in the second round in each of the last two seasons.
Game two is set for tonight, starting at 6:30 p.m., at the Mohegan Sun Arena, in Uncasville, Connecticut, and game three will be played on Sunday at 7 p.m. at the Walter Pyramid on the campus of Long Beach State University in Long Beach, California.