New Haven Register (New Haven, CT)
Sun enter playoffs on high as No. 1 seed
With the regular season officially concluded, the Connecticut Sun are heading into the WNBA Playoffs on a high with a franchise record win streak and a new weapon on the court following the return of franchise standout Alyssa Thomas.
Ever since the Olympic Break, and even before it, the Sun have been one of, if not the most dominant, teams in the league. Connecticut closed the regular season on a 14-game win streak — the best regular-season finish in league history — to earn the No. 1 seed along with a league-leading 26-6 overall record.
All signs point to this being the year for a team that has thrice been to the finals yet never won the ultimate title. The Sun, which start the playoffs with a doublebye in the semifinals (Sept. 28) for the third straight year, will look to make history this postseason.
“Through our success our confidence has only grown” Sun head coach Curt Miller said. “We’ve had veteran leadership, we have a really great locker room, but there’s a swagger, there’s the shoulders back high, there’s pride, a belief in how we play and then there’s just constant chatter amongst our players. We’re not led by one person, there’s a lot of voices . ... It’s just a remarkable run. I can’t be more proud as a coach. It’s a really special group to coach on the court and what they stand for and how they approach their job is just truly impressive.”
Here’s a quick look into how
the Sun have reached the playoffs:
A HISTORIC UNBEATEN RECORD
The Sun ended the regular season a franchise-record 14-game win streak and a league-best 26-6 overall record. The streak is the fourth longest regular-season streak in WNBA history along, behind Houston (15 games in 1998), Phoenix (16 games in 2014) and Los Angeles (18 in 2001).
Connecticut tied its best season start to begin the 2021 regular season after winning five straight and ended the regular season with a 15-1 home record and a tie for the franchise’s best 26 wins. Outside of dropping the inaugural Commissioners’ Cup
(which doesn’t count for team standings) to Seattle on Aug. 12, the team’s last regular season game loss was on July 3 against the Indiana Fever. Its six losses are the fewest regular-season losses in Sun history.
THE NO. 1 SEED
With the league’s best overall record, Connecticut will be the No. 1 seed with a double-bye in the 2021 playoffs. Connecticut, which will begin the playoffs in the semifinals for the third straight year, is looking to win the franchise’s first WNBA Championship after last competing in the WNBA Finals in 2019.
The Sun earned their spot in the playoffs on Aug. 24, after defeating
Las Vegas 76-62 for its 18th win on the season. Connecticut secured its double-bye after beating Dallas on Sept. 7 and Los Angeles on Sept. 9. The team earned received the No. 1 seed spot following its victory over Phoenix on
In Connecticut’s last trip the playoffs in 2020, the team fell in the semifinals to Las Vegas (2-3). In 2019, the team reached the finals for the first time since 2005 before eventually losing the championship to Washington (2-3). Before 2019, the Sun fell in the Finals to Sacramento (1-3) in 2005 and Seattle (1-2) in 2004.
MVP CANDIDATE JONQUEL JONES
The former George Washington standout has been with the Sun since Miller took over in 2016. While Jones has played in every Sun game since her first days with Connecticut the 6-foot-6 forward is having her best season yet this summer.
Averaging 19.4 points and a leagueleading 11.2 rebounds per game, Jones has consistently been the Sun’s dominating spark this season on both ends of the court.
“I’m bullish of saying she is the MVP. She should be the MVP. Her numbers are just amazing, and she plays on the No. 1 team in the league,” Miller said. “She just is the full package and with that said, she doesn’t care if she has the most shots attempts each and every night. She is a humble super-star. She credits her teammates. She knows that we have bigger goals than an individual award while she wants that recognition, deserves that recognition, she is as humble of a superstar as you’ll find and team-first person.”
RETURN OF THE ENGINE
Thomas returned to the court on Wednesday, Sept. 15, nine months after suffering an Achilles tear in January while playing overseas. The injury, which usually has a recovery timeline of about nine months, placed
Thomas on the sideline for the season helping to coach players during practices and focus on her rehab and recovery.
Following Thomas’ return on Wednesday in the Sun’s game against the Liberty, Miller said it clear Thomas, a two-time All-Star, wasn’t playing at 100 percent of what she used to and just needed more time to get back to playing live-game minutes. Thomas played 17 minutes on Wednesday (six points, three rebounds, one steal, one assist) and 19 minutes on Sunday, in the Sun’s regular season finale against Atlanta (five points, seven rebounds and three assists).
“She has meant so much,” Miller said. “She’s been the anchor, right, truly the engine. We’ve tweaked how we play without her and we tweaked how we play with her through the years. We made her such a vocal point and I think the fans appreciate that that’s a kid that plays her guts out every single second she’s on the court and she is respected and revered because of that in this fan base.”
Having Thomas, who helped carry the Sun to the 2020 Playoff Semifinals, back on the roster to end the season will provide Connecticut with another weapon on the court as it hopes to win the franchise’s first WNBA Championship.
“She’s just a machine. She worked so hard and it’s great to have her back. We’ve been anticipating today,” the Sun’s DeWanna Bonner said. “This is her. She’s built this. She’s been here since the beginning. … She was here when it was 14 wins and now it’s this, so she’s going to be a part of it when we’re out there.”