Professional Basketball

Sun Downs Sparks, Advances to WNBA Finals

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Connecticut Sun center Jonquel Jones boxes out Los Angeles Sparks forward Candace Parker during Game 2 of the WNBA Semifinals. The Sun won game three and advance to the WNBA Finals for the first time since 2005. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine

The Connecticut Sun became the first team to advance to the WNBA Finals by sweeping the best-of-five semifinals series with a decisive 78-56 win over the Los Angeles Sparks in front of an announced crowd of 4,000 at the Walter Pyramid at Cal State Long Beach.

Neither team got into the flow to start the game at the start. The game was tied 4-4 when Sun guard Courtney Williams hit a free throw with 5:11 remaining in the first quarter to break the tie.

It didn’t stay that way for long as Williams, who scored Connecticut’s first seven points, helped spark a 9-2 run, giving them an 11-6 lead with 2:18 remaining in the quarter.

Los Angeles closed out the quarter with a run of their own as layups from Candace Parker and Alana Beard made the score 14-11 at the end of the first.

Sparks guard Alexis Jones nailed a three-pointer at the 9:11 mark in the second quarter to give Los Angeles a 16-14 lead, but this was promptly answered by a trey from Sun guard Jasmine Thomas.

Then the Sun began to pull away on a 15-2 run that ended when Sparks forward Nneka Ogwumike scored on a layup with 4:36 left in the half with Connecticut leading 29-20.

Neither team could gain an advantage for the remainder of the half, which had the Sun leading 40-32 at the intermission.

The Sun pushed a 15-5 run to open the third quarter and blow the game wide open. It was answered by a 7-0 run by Nneka and Chiney Ogwumike, but the Sun responded in kind. Connecticut outscored Los Angeles 23-12 in the third quarter, which put them up 78-56 heading into the final frame.

Sparks head coach Derek Fisher sat his starters for the fourth quarter and let his young bench players finish the game gaining some valuable playoff experience. Knowing that the game was in the bag, Sun head coach Curt Miller then did the same. When the final buzzer sounded, Connecticut pulled off the 78-56 win and the right to make their first trip to the WNBA Finals since 2005. They will face the winner of the Washington Mystics – Las Vegas Aces series.

Connecticut Sun forward Alyssa Thomas only scored two points during Sunday’s third game of the semifinals series, but her performance in Game 1 and 2 made the difference that led to the Sun making their first WNBA Finals appearance since 2005. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine

“I first want to say congratulations to the Sparks. Hats off to a classy organization in L.A. It makes it even more special for me to watch our team move on beyond the L.A. organization, because I have such admiration for them,” said Miller.

“The story of the series was our defense. A lot of side stories here and there, but ultimately if you drilled it down, I’m really proud of the maturation of a young team’s defense, and you can see what happens when a core group plays together for four years,” he added. “This was our vision when we took over in ’16 to build with a core group, and allow them the highs and lows. We circled this year on the calendar back in 2016 and it’s just amazing that that group has allowed the vision that we had all come together.”

Connecticut guard Jasmine Thomas led all scorers with 29, while guard Courtney Williams chipped in 17 points and led all rebounders with 13. Los Angeles was led by 17 points and six rebounds from forward Nneka Ogwumike.

Sparks forward Candace Parker only played 11 minutes, but her four points and two assists was enough to propel her into the seventh spot in all-time playoffs scoring, passing Deanna Nolan; and 12th all-time in playoffs assists, passing Nikki Teasley. Parker has 871 points and 165 assists during the playoffs in her WNBA career.

Nneka Ogwumike scored her 500th playoff point, and grabbed her 272nd playoff rebound, passing Erika de Souza and tying Swin Cash for 16th all-time in playoff rebounding category.

When asked about experiencing different emotions now than he expected at the beginning of the season when he took over the Sparks, Fisher said, “At the moment, not that I can feel. But any team I have ever been a part of when the season ends and you are not the champion, it feels very similar. You wish you could’ve done more, you wish you could’ve as a player been more or done more things.”

“I think their [Connecticut’s] group is extremely connected. What we have to take from it is they’re connected because of what happened to them in the past. They have been bounced in the first round in the past y ears. So there was a hunger and determination and a passion to get beyond that and that didn’t just start today or in this series. It started with how hard they worked in the offseason, how hard they pushed each other in practice every day. The way they approached everything that they did they were determined to get to a place where they can play for a championship. That’s how it happens, and that’s how we have to take from this,” Fisher added.

The Sun players are happy to be advancing to the Finals.

“We’re feeling real good right now. This was a goal of ours, to be in this position and to take advantage of having home court. We won those two at home and came here with a mission to win this game. We didn’t want to play another game in this series,” said Jasmine Thomas.

For now, they will have to wait until the other semifinals series wraps up. The Washington Mystics hold a 2-1 advantage with Game 4 of the best-of-five series set for an 8 p.m. CT tipoff at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Nevada.

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