Here’s a hypothetical situation: Let’s say you find yourself in the waning seconds of Game 1 of the WNBA Finals, your team down 67-64 and your opponent with possession of the ball. The other team’s point guard, one of the best shotmakers in the league, a true sicko who never misses when it counts and is never more comfortable than when there is a hand in her face, has isolated you on the perimeter. The clock is ticking down and you have to get a stop here if you want to hang on to an outside chance at tying the game. Would you find yourself smiling?
Who would answer “yes” to that question other than Alyssa Thomas, the Connecticut Sun forward who found herself in exactly the situation described above at the end of Game 1 against the Aces. Thomas smiled, and stayed in her stance, and waited for Gray to rise up and shoot, just as everyone in the arena knew she was going to do.
Thomas finished the game with 19 points, 11 rebounds, five assists, three steals, and three blocks. She looked, as she often does, like the best two-way player on the floor. Earlier, while the Sun were down 67-60 with 1:24 left to play, it was Thomas who blitzed Gray, snatched the ball out of her hands, and went to the other end for an easy layup:
A few possessions later, Thomas found an errant pass in her hands and converted yet another easy layup to bring the Sun within three points.
And yes, fine, the Sun lost the game, and no, Thomas’s defensive efforts were not enough to stop Gray from scoring 21 points on 9-of-17 shooting (including one particularly tough jumper right in Thomas’s eye), nor were they enough to keep A’ja Wilson from adding 24 of her own points. But even with Gray and Wilson cooking, the Aces were held under 70 points for the first time all season.
This series was billed as the ultimate clash between offense and defense, pitting the Sun’s league-best 91.9 defensive rating against Vegas’s league-best 114.7 offensive rating. I have a nagging suspicion that the Aces will not feel too great about what today’s game says about their offense’s grip on the series, and that the Sun will have trouble not cracking a few more grins at the fact that their defensive effort almost erased a seven-point deficit with under 90 seconds to play. Aside from that, any team that can hold the Aces to a nine-point quarter, as the Sun defense did in the second quarter of this game, has good reason to play with confidence.
Wins are all that matter, and there’s no such thing as a constructive loss in a five-game series, but the Sun have a few things to be happy about heading into Game 2. At the very least, they know they have someone who can actually force Chelsea Gray to miss a big shot every now and then.