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WNBA Semifinals: Can the Sun Upset the Aces?

Female basketball players in court/ JWS

The Las Vegas Aces went 9-1 over their last ten regular season games, including a win over the Seattle Storm in the season finale, to clinch the first seed. For that effort, they earned the right to play the Connecticut Sun, who in the single-elimination rounds of the playoffs dispatched both Chicago and Los Angeles , the latter of which was a title favorite.

While facing a seven seed in the semifinals may have been a mental boost for Las Vegas, Connecticut turned the tables in Game 1, hammering the Aces 87-62 behind a career high 31 pts from Jasmine Thomas.

That result shouldn’t have been so surprising after watching the Sun handle the Sparks in a similar fashion, holding Los Angeles to a season low in points last game, with no quarter above 20 points. Throughout the regular season, defense has been the Sun’s strength. The team ended fourth in defensive rating, and through the first three games of the playoffs, they’ve lived up to the billing on that end of the court.

The question for Connecticut was always where the scoring would come from. Before the season, everyone wondered what DeWanna Bonner could provide the Sun, who lost in last year’s Finals. Bonner answered with her most efficient season in her decorated career, scoring more points per 36 minutes than at any other time in her 11 WNBA seasons.

The other big question was how Jonquel Jones would be replaced (Jones opted out of the season due to Covid concerns). In her first season as a full-time starter, Brionna Jones proved to be more than an adequate stop gap. Coming into the year, she’d only averaged 3.2 points per game in her career. She nearly quadrupled that as a starter, putting up 11.2 per game to go along with 5.6 rebounds.

The two players expected to lead the team this season have done exactly that. Alyssa Thomas averaged the most points in her seven-year career (15.5) and Jasmine Thomas had her fifth consecutive season averaging double digit points per game.

This is a team with a host of scoring threats that thrive off of ball movement. All five starters finished with at least 10 points against Los Angeles.

In the two regular season matchups, however, the Aces swept the Sun, winning by at least 15 points each time. And now, MVP A’ja Wilson and Las Vegas should be well-rested.

Like Connecticut, Las Vegas will look to dominate in the paint, only they do it better than anyone. The Aces have more rebounds than any other team, the second most field goals per game in the restricted area (12.0), the most field goals in the paint outside of the restricted area (9.4) and the second most mid-range makes (7.5). The Aces also had 37 more made free throws than any other team as they got to the line at a league-leading clip.

The converse of the inside prowess is that no one takes fewer 3-pointers from the left (0.5 FGA), right (0.2 FGA), or center (10.9). Still, Las Vegas has the fourth-highest 3-point percentage.

On average, Las Vegas has five players in double figures each game. While Wilson is the team leader, Angel McCoughtry has had a resurgent season. On a per-minute basis, McCoughtry is averaging more points than Wilson, and the second highest average in her career behind 2011. She also is assisting at her highest rate since 2013, with the most rebounds, best free throw percentage, best field goal percentage, and best 3-point field goal percentage of her career.

Both teams will want to command the paint. If Connecticut can space the floor, as they did in making nine 3-pointers against the Sparks, they can prove their Game 1 upset of the Aces was anything but a fluke.

Had this been another single-elimination game, the Sun would be on to the next round. But there’s a reason it’s a series, and given their depth, the Aces may still prove to be just too much for the overachieving Sun.