The Connecticut Sun needed all three games to eliminate the Minnesota Lynx, but after a 90-75 win on the road in Game 3 they have advanced. Alyssa Thomas and DeWanna Bonner, the team's two best players all season long, stepped up in Game 3 to combine for 53 points, 16 rebounds and 18 assists and ensure their season continued..
Now, the Sun are on to the semifinals for the fifth consecutive season, which ties the Las Vegas Aces for the longest active such streak. There, they will face the New York Liberty, who swept the Washington Mystics in the first round. The Liberty swept the four head-to-head games this season, but the Sun are not going to go down without a fight. That series will get underway on Sunday afternoon in New York.
(3) Connecticut Sun def. (6) Minnesota Lynx, 2-1
Game 1: Sun 90, Lynx 60 (Sun lead 1-0)
Players to watch
Sun: Alyssa Thomas
Perhaps no player in the league means quite as much to their team as Thomas, who put together a historic and unique season as she became the triple-double queen and single-handedly led the Sun to the No. 3 seed. When she was on the floor this season, the Sun had a plus-7.5 net rating; when she sat, it plummeted to minus-22.7.
Lynx: Napheesa Collier
Collier is another of the league's brightest stars, and like Thomas will receive MVP votes and should appear on both All-WNBA and All-Defensive teams. While her on/off splits aren't as staggering as Thomas's -- no one's are, to be fair -- Collier is vital to the Lynx's success, and their hopes of pulling an upset rest on her shoulders.
Three keys to the series
The Sun had the second-best defensive rating in the league this season, allowing just 98.8 points per 100 possessions. A major reason for their success on that side of the ball is they forced an incredible amount of turnovers with their pressure and physicality. Their opponent turnover rate was 19.8%, and it's hard for any team to score when they're not even getting a shot up on one out of every five possessions.
While that's an issue for any team, it's an especially glaring concern for the Lynx, who have the second-worst turnover rate of all the playoff teams at 17.7%. They have had trouble taking care of the ball all season long, and allowed 16.7 points off turnovers per game, which ranked 11th in the league. The Sun, on the other hand, feast on such situations. Their 18.5 points off turnovers per game led the league and were a crucial part of their offense.
If the Lynx want to pull off an upset, it starts with taking care of the ball. Not only will that give them more opportunities to score, but it will keep the Sun out of transition and limit their easy baskets.
Thomas loves playing the Lynx
Alyssa Thomas put up incredible numbers this season, the likes of which we've never seen: 15.5 points, 9.9 rebounds, 7.9 assists and 1.8 steals per game on 47.4% shooting. She registered six triple-doubles this season, to set the new single-season record, and now has eight for her career, which is the all-time mark.
While she did damage against every team, she was particularly fond of playing the Lynx. That was the opponent when she recorded her historic 20-point, 20-rebound, 12-assist outing on Aug. 1 -- the first 20/20/10 game in WNBA history -- and she had another triple-double against them on July 30. Over four games against the Lynx, she averaged 17 points, 13 rebounds and 10.3 assists.
The Sun went 3-1 against the Lynx this season, and their movement off the ball around Thomas caused all sorts of issues for the Lynx's defense. Minnesota will have to be deliberate with the help they send her way and have everyone else on the weak side on a string, or Thomas will pick them apart.
Can the Lynx keep the Sun off the line?
The Sun lived at the free-throw line this season. They shot 19.9 free throws per game (third in the league), had a 0.293 free throw rate (second in the league) and scored 18.4% of their total points at the line (sixth in the league). While they actually shot it quite poorly from the stripe at 76.6% (11th in the league), they rack up so many attempts that it's still a significant part of their offense.
Their ability to punish you in the paint takes a toll. It allows them to slow the game down, score easy points and put other teams in foul trouble. The Lynx's ability to defend without fouling will be a key factor in this series. While the Lynx haven't been a great defensive team this season, that is one area they've excelled.
Only the Aces and Liberty committed fewer fouls than the Lynx (16.9 per game), only the Aces allowed fewer opponent free throws (16.3), and only the Aces had a lower opponent free throw rate (0.230). But while they've shown an impressive ability to keep opponents off the line, the playoffs and the Sun's style will test their discipline.
It was extremely impressive to see the Lynx get up off the mat early in the season and make the playoffs, but their turnaround was feuled by beating bad teams. They went 4-11 against the four .500+ teams this season, including 1-3 versus the Sun, and have not been playing great ball as of late. The Sun are the superior team, and have the best player in the series, who will not be denied. Pick: Sun in 2