Professional Basketball

Sun eclipse Lynx, advance to semifinal round


Connecticut Sun forward DeWanna Bonner and Minnesota Lynx forward Dorka Juhasz battle for the opening tip during Wednesday night’s WNBA Round 1 Game 3 playoff game at Target Center. Photo by Abe Booker III/Sportspage Magazine

MINNEAPOLIS – After Sunday’s Game 2 loss to the Minnesota Lynx, the Connecticut Sun knew they had to work hard to close out the best-of-three series on their opponent’s court. They took the fight to the Lynx in front of 8,724 at Target Center on Wednesday night and pulled out a 90-75 victory and a trip to their fifth consecutive WNBA semifinals.

Connecticut jumped out to a 6-0 lead with scores by center Alyssa Thomas, guard Natisha Hiedeman and forward DeWanna Bonner. Minnesota Lynx rookie forward Dorka Juhasz scored on the and-one followed by a trey by her teammate, rookie forward Diamond Miller. This tied the score at 6-6 with 7:40 left in the first quarter. It was the only tie in the game.

The Sun kicked it up a notch and went on a 14-0 run with balanced scoring. Forward Rebecca Allen, guard Tiffany Hayes joined Thomas and Bonner in the scoring attack. With 4:45 left on the clock in the opening quarter, Lynx fans thought they might be in for a very long night. Minnesota only grabbed one rebound, by Juhasz, while Connecticut wasn’t leaving much in the way of rebounding opportunities.

Opening home playoff jitters aside, Minnesota regrouped and took the fight back to Connecticut as they had in Game 2 a few days prior. Lynx forward Napheesa Collier, who is in the discussion for most valuable player this year, took matters into her own hands scoring nine points in the remainder of the quarter. She got help with baskets from guard Kayla McBride, forward Bridget Carleton and guard Tiffany Mitchell. When the quarter ended, the Sun led 26-19.

When the second quarter began, the Lynx continued where they left off before the break. Miller scored on a layup, Juhasz made a free throw and Carlton hit a three-pointer. Minnesota had answered Connecticut’s early run with a 12-1 run of their own. The score was 26-25 in favor of Connecticut with 7:56 left in the half.

Connecticut guard Tyasha Harris and center Olivia Nelson-Ododa joined Bonner and Thomas and soon opened up a 17-4 run and a 42-29 lead with 2:22 left on the clock. They finished the half with a 49-34 lead. The Sun outscored the Lynx 26-19 in the first quarter and 23-15 in the second.

Connecticut Sun center Alyssa Thomas attempts to drive past Minnesota Lynx forward Napheesa Collier during Wednesday’s Round 1 Game 3 playoff game at Target Center. Photo by Abe Booker III/Sportspage Magazine

Both teams came out of the halftime break with a renewed emphasis on defense. As a result, neither team was able to get a serious run going in the third quarter. Minnesota’s Collier scored nine of her team’s 15 points in the quarter, but this was answered by a Connecticut’s Bonner and Thomas combining for 11 of their 16 third quarter points. Both teams turned the ball over three times and were both held below 40 percent shooting in the quarter. Connecticut still led by 16 points, 65-49, when the quarter ended.

The game moved to the perimeter in the fourth quarter, but both teams continued to lock in on each other. The Sun’s Harris scored a jump shot, which was answered by Lynx forward Carleton’s jump shot. When Collier scored a three-pointer, Harris answered with a three-pointer. Nothing the Lynx could do seemed to allow them to close the gap. Nothing the Sun could do would allow them to grow the lead.

The worst play of the game, for the Lynx, occurred when Bonner heaved up an off-balance three-point shot attempt as the shot clock was expiring with 4:08 remaining in regulation. Lynx forward Diamond Miller was standing still about two feet away. Referee Toni Patillo blew her whistle and called Miller for a shooting foul. It was upheld under review, even though the in-arena video showed no contact. The stadium erupted out in protest. Bonner, unrattled, sank all three free throws, making the score 78-62.

When asked if this was a case of the referees targeting Miller, a rookie player, Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve didn’t think that it was.

“You have to learn in situations, what triggers a referee. You can’t but them [referees] into situations that if they think they see something [they blow the whistle],” said Reeve. “I think that in that scenario where you’ve got someone bottled up, probably showing your hands would have been a better [option]. But that’s easy for us to say in the heat of the moment, and sometimes there’s just bad calls. I don’t necessarily think she got her unfair share.”

Minnesota Lynx forward Napheesa Collier drives for a layup while Connecticut Sun center Alyssa Thomas defends the paint in Wednesday’s WNBA playoff game at Target Center. Photo by Abe Booker III/Sportspage Magazine

Minnesota continued to play with urgency but no matter what they did, Connecticut always had an answer. When the buzzer sounded, Connecticut won the game 90-75 and won the series three games to two for the right to face the New York Liberty in the semifinal round.

The Lynx went 26-for-60 from the field (43.3 percent); 8-for-22 in three point shooting (36.4 percent); and 15-for-19 in free throw attempts (78.9 percent). They committed 10 turnovers that led to 14 Connecticut points.

“Congratulations to Connecticut. They earned it. They’re going to be an awfully tough out [in the semifinals],” said Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve. “We made them work for this win. Connecticut’s defense is legit and was problematic for us, so give them credit. But we made them have to play defense hard.”

Connecticut went 36-for-65 from the field (55.4 percent); 9-for-20 from three point range (45 percent); and 9-for-14 from the charity stripe (64.3 percent). They committed 10 turnovers which led to seven Minnesota points. The Sun edged the Lynx 40-28 in points-in-the-paint, 5-4 in second chance points, and 16-7 in fast break points. There was one tie and zero lead changes.

Minnesota was led by 31 points by Napheesa Collier. Bridget Carleton added 13 and Kayla McBride chipped in 10 points. McBride led her team with seven rebounds. Tiffany Mitchell led the Lynx with five assists.

“I give Phee [Collier] so much credit. It doesn’t matter what matchup they throw at her or if she’s double-teamed,” said Reeve. She’s special and an important piece of us as we move forward.”

Minnesota Lynx forward Napheesa Collier attempts to block a shot by Connecticut Sun guard Tiffany Hayes during Wednesday night’s playoff game at Target Center. Photo by Abe Booker III/Sportspage Magazine

Connecticut was led by Alyssa Thomas’s 28 points and 12 assists. DeWanna Bonner added 25 points and 10 rebounds. Tyasha Harris scored 18 points for the victors.

“They are so talented defensively and they’ve played together for awhile. They’re all vets so they know how to disrupt us,” said Lynx forward Bridget Carleton. “Credit to them and their defense. They’re one of the best for a reason.”

The Sun had several players who hit milestones at the franchise and league levels. Natisha Hiedeman moved into sixth all-time in assists in franchise history with 69. DeWanna Bonner moved into ninth all-time in blocks (61), fifth all-time in field goals made (356) and seventh in three-point field goals made (86) in WNBA postseason history. Alyssa Thomas moved into fourth all-time in double-doubles (18) in WNBA postseason history in a tie with retired Los Angeles Sparks center Lisa Leslie.

For Minnesota, Napheesa Collier became only the fourth Lynx player to score more than 30 points in a playoff game, joining Seimone Augustus, Lindsay Whalen and Maya Moore in this feat. She also reached several Lynx all-time postseason milestones including ranking sixth all-time in defensive rebounds (57) surpassing Taj McWilliams-Franklin. She also ranks seventh in all-time postseason franchise scoring with 164 points, having surpassed Monica Wright.

Dorka Juhasz and Diamond Miller are the first pair of rookie teammates to start in a WNBA postseason game since Candace Parker and Shannon Bobbitt started for the Los Angeles Sparks back in 2008.

The Connecticut Sun will now face the New York Liberty at 1 p.m. ET/noon CT on Sunday in Game 1 of the best-of-five semifinal round at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. The winner of that series will play the winner of the Las Vegas Aces versus Dallas Wings semifinal series for the WNBA championship.

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