UNCASVILLE, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut checked off the first box on its postseason to-do list: winning a playoff game for the first time since 2012.
Alyssa Thomas had 22 points and grabbed 10 rebounds to lead a balanced Connecticut offense and the Sun opened the WNBA semifinals with an 84-75 win over the Los Angeles Sparks on Tuesday night.
Jasmine Thomas scored 19 points, Jonquel Jones had 16 and Courtney Williams had 15 for the second-seeded Sun, who had a bye for the first two rounds.
“We’ve been working toward this all season,” said Alyssa Thomas, who also had five assists and four of the team’s nine steals. “Our first goal was to secure at top-two seed. Single game elimination has not been good to us and we finally put ourselves in a position where we can play a series and we’re more than ready. We’re hungry.”
Candace Parker had 24 points and 10 rebounds, and Nneka Ogwumike added 20 points and 10 rebounds for the Sparks, who knocked off defending champion Seattle in the second round.
But the Sun forced the Sparks into 17 turnovers and Los Angeles’ starting backcourt of Riquna Williams and Chelsea Gray were a combined 3 of 17 from the floor.
“We have a third and fourth, fifth person that’s capable of scoring points,” said Sparks first-year coach Derek Fisher. “But we couldn’t sustain it, particularly from our backcourt.”
Connecticut trailed by three points at halftime, but scored the first nine points of the third quarter. A layup by Courtney Williams just before that quarter’s buzzer sent the Sun into the final 10 minutes up 59-58.
Connecticut never trailed in the fourth. A key 3-pointer from Jones gave the Sun a seven-point lead with 4 minutes remaining and the home team outscored the Sparks 25-17 over the final 10 minutes.
The Sun, who lost their final two regular-season games, had not played since Sept. 8 and missed their first four shots.
But Alyssa Thomas quickly found her form, scoring the Sun’s first nine points and had 13 as Connecticut took a 21-14 lead after a quarter.
“I wouldn’t say we came out slow, we actually came out really fast, unsettled, rushing shots, being too anxious to shoot instead of just getting settled,” said Jasmine Thomas. “She settled us. She took the ball, took over, got us going downhill.”
Connecticut led by as many as 11 points in the second, before Nneka Ogwumike led the Sparks back. She had 13 points in the half, hitting six of her seven shots as LA took a 40-37 lead into intermission.
Mystics 97, Aces 95
WASHINGTON (AP) — Elena Delle Donne scored 24 points and hit a crucial turnaround jumper late, Emma Meesseman added a career postseason high 27 points, and the Washington Mystics held on for a 97-95 victory over the Las Vegas Aces in Game 1 of their WNBA semifinal series Tuesday night.
Meesseman also bested her regular-season high of 25 for the top-seeded Mystics, who were playing their first postseason game since being swept by the Seattle Storm in last year’s WNBA Finals.
In her first game in more than a month, Kristi Toliver added eight points, including a falling away, contested 3-pointer that stretched Washington’s lead to 13 in the fourth quarter, an advantage that just barely held.