UNCASVILLE, Conn. (AP) — With their season on the line, Alyssa Thomas and the Connecticut Sun took it right to Chicago and forced a decisive Game 5 in their WNBA semifinals series against the Sky.
DeWanna Bonner and Courtney Williams each scored 19 points to help the Sun rout the Sky 104-80 on Tuesday night. Thomas added 17 points for Connecticut, which will travel to the second-seeded Sky for the winner-take-all WNBA playoffs game on Thursday night.
“Some games like tonight we get to feeling good, and the basket looks a little bigger. Tonight we just made shots,” Williams said. “Whatever team comes out and puts the ball in the basket is going to win.”
It’s the second consecutive playoff series for each team that has gone the distance. Both Chicago and Connecticut had to go on the road in the third game of their opening-round series and win to reach the semifinals because of the new playoff format that saw the higher seeded team host the first two games of that best-of-three set.
“It’s going to come down to who plays better for two hours,” Connecticut coach Curt Miller said. “We’ve won some tough road games. We have a team that grinds and has grit and that’s the kind of toughness you need to pull off a road win in a big game.”
Miller has been saying the entire series his team would have to make the game “messy” to beat the Sky. Getting into a high-scoring game wouldn’t benefit the Sun.
“So much for messy. That wasn’t messy,” Miller said. “A huge win and sending it back to Chicago for Game 5.”
That wasn’t the case Tuesday, as the Sun raced to a 22-6 lead, scoring 10 of the first 12 points. Thomas was a big reason why with seven points, four rebounds and two assists in the first five minutes. The All-Star forward had six points total in Game 3 and seven in Game 2 — both Connecticut losses.
“We put an emphasis on the first quarter. It’s something we talked about,” Williams said. “This series has been told by what happened in the first quarter.”
The Sky got back within eight by the end of the first quarter, but couldn’t get much closer as Connecticut had an answer for every Chicago run — thanks to Thomas, Bonner and Jonquel Jones. The trio helped the Sun outscore the Sky 66-34 in the lane.
“Big response by our team and the starting group that set the tone early with the aggressiveness at both ends of the floor,” Miller said. “We talked this entire time how this is going to be a points in the paint series for us. That was an impressive performance of points in the paint.”
Chicago got within 38-33 midway through the second quarter before the Sun went on a 15-5 run to restore the double-digit advantage. DiJonai Carrington had five points during the burst that was capped by Thomas’ layup with 1:01 left in the half.
Candace Parker, who had been stellar in the first three games of the series, scored her first points of the game on a 3-pointer 16 seconds later that got the Sky within 53-41. Connecticut scored the final five points, including a layup just before the buzzer by Carrington that made it 58-41 at the break.
“I think the first thing we have to do is clean up some stuff,” Chicago coach James Wade said. “We’ll be better next game.”
Williams was the spark in the third quarter, helping the Sun stave off any Sky run. Her teammates were looking for her when Chicago would come double them, and Williams was left open for layups. She had 10 points in the third quarter.
“There were too many details we missed,” Allie Quigley said. “Not doing what we were supposed to do. We missed people behind us. There were too many moments where we weren’t there and ready. We weren’t focused.”
Kahleah Copper scored 16 points and Emma Meesseman added 14 for the Sky. Parker had 11 points and nine rebounds.
WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert honored Sun forward Brionna Jones before the game with the league’s Sixth Person of the Year award. Jones received 53 of the 56 votes from a national media panel. It’s the first time Jones has won the award.
Parker moved into first all-time on the career playoff rebound list, passing Tamika Catchings. Parker now has 600 in her career. Catchings had 598.
“Great accomplishment. Goes to show her level of greatness she’s had for her career,” Wade said. “Something you can’t take for granted. Even in the loss, its tough to celebrate those types of things, but we have to acknowledge it.”
The Sky are trying to be the first team to repeat as champions since Los Angeles did it in 2001-02. Six other defending champions reached the finals since then, but all lost in that round. … The UConn women’s basketball team was in attendance, sitting a few row up from the Chicago Sky bench. … Bonner moved into seventh on the all-time postseason scoring list in WNBA history.
More WNBA playoffs: https://apnews.com/hub/wnba-playoffs and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports