Alyssa Thomas lands 1st triple-double in Finals history as Sun Force Game 4 vs. Aces

The story was abundant as the Connecticut Sun completely reversed the script after a road trip across the country and short stopover.

Alyssa Thomas notched the first triple-double in WNBA Finals history as the Sun stepped up their offense to support their normally towering defense to avoid elimination with a 105-76 victory against the Las Vegas Aces in Game 3 at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut on Thursday. Game 4 is Sunday (4 p.m. ET, ESPN) in Connecticut.

Thomas, who was named to the All-WNBA Second Team before the whistleblower, had 16 points, 15 rebounds and 11 assists as the Sun went 4-0 in playoff games this postseason. Thomas has three career triple-doubles, with the first two coming earlier this season (July 22 vs. Minnesota and August 2 vs. Phoenix).

“We put the ball in his hands a lot tonight, and when things work out as a coach, you feel really good that you pushed the right buttons,” Sun coach Curt Miller said. “But she’s so selfless. You know, her and Candace [Parker] are the two best facilitative forwards in the world, and it’s really fun to see non-scoring goalies share that. And tonight she just sprayed the ball all night, and it was fantastic to watch.”

Jonquel Jones blasted his way into the paint to score 20 points, but the trade-off was four fouls, limiting it to 25 minutes. The Sun finished the game on a 19-0 run.

The Sun finally found their shots, and those shots were falling in the first half. The Sun set a Finals record by shooting 82.4% in the first quarter, which was also the highest scoring first quarter in Finals history. Connecticut closed the first quarter on a 25-4 run.

For play, Connecticut 55.8 percent and 53.3 percent (8 of 15) from 3-point range. The Sun had 38 rebounds and 32 assists on 43 baskets scored.

DeWanna Bonner, who had scored just five points in the first two games of the series combined, scored nine points in the first half of Game 3. She finished with 18. Her offense was badly needed.

Bonner also changed his defensive mission, trying to slow down the Chelsea Gray of the Aces. It worked, as Gray only found success largely when Bonner was on the bench.

There were flashes where the Aces seemed to want to take control of the game. Gray notched three straight 3-pointers late in the first half and the Aces finished the second quarter on an 8-0 run capped by Kelsey Plum’s buzzer-beater.

In the second half, however, the Sun were the team in charge. Jackie Young led the Aces with 22 points, while A’ja Wilson added 19.

The Sun had a 23-point lead in the first half, the biggest lead of either team in the series (the Sun won by a 29-point margin, but that was after the two benches have been emptied with the game out of reach). Connecticut had 19 assists on 21 field goals in the first half and had 18 rebounds (16 defensively).

Alyssa Thomas of the Connecticut Sun, left, looks for a pass as A’ja Wilson of the Las Vegas Aces defends during the first half of Game 3 of a WNBA basketball final playoff series on Thursday September 15, 2022, in Uncasville, Conn. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

How the Sun won Game 3

Miller’s defensive adjustments made all the difference. Miller tapped into Bonner’s length to try to slow Gray and his astonishing playoff run. It worked. Gray didn’t score after halftime.

“Chelsea Gray’s numbers are historic right now on shots contested, so we’re delighted to go into tonight, two games, 27 of his 33 shots in this series had been contested, 27 shots contested,” Miller said. “So we were sticking with her, trying to make them difficult, but she has an incredible release point and an incredible talent for scoring during the competition. So we decided on a bit more length for her, and we knew that everything Everyone was going to keep her, everybody’s going to keep her tonight, but let’s put some time on her.

Bonner’s all-around play and home crowd support was just what the Sun needed to force at least one more game. Bonner had struggled offensively earlier in the series, something Jones told him about before Thursday.

Jones’ MVP-level play and Thomas’ triple-double can’t be ignored either. The collective effort of the team was rewarded. The Sun could have stolen Game 1 in Vegas and were confident after the three-point loss. Their exit in Game 3 was what was expected in Game 2, but didn’t materialize.

How Aces Can Bounce in Match 4

Now it’s up to the Aces to make defensive adjustments if they want to claim their first title in franchise history. Las Vegas is known for its offense, but it has to stop first when Connecticut starts.

“I’ve got a crew ticked in there. I won’t have to say much,” Aces coach Becky Hammon said. “Go back. Look at how we can exploit what they do and get the ball going. This game was about the physical and the mental toughness, and they smoked us, full stop. The physical follows, but the mental for them was there and not us.”

There were glimpses in Game 3 where the Aces could get back on track and close out the series. Each time, however, the Sun continued to push the ball inside. The Sun scored a Finals record 64 points in the paints; Aces only had 26.

“It just was, I guess, the MO of the playoffs, didn’t it. Like even the Chicago series, the team that won the paint won the game. That’s where it is done,” Jones said. “You know, I think a long time ago I talked to Lisa Leslie and she said, ‘To win the championship, you have to win the paint. I see it now and I feel it now and as a veteran now I can definitely go back and say she was right.”

WNBA Finals Schedule

Game 1: Las Vegas 67, Connecticut 64

Game 2: Las Vegas 85, Connecticut 71

Game 3: Connecticut 105, Las Vegas 76 (Aces lead 2-1)

Game 4: Las Vegas at Connecticut, 4 p.m. ET Sunday (ESPN)

Game 5: Connecticut at Las Vegas, 9 p.m. ET Tuesday (ESPN)*

* – if necessary

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