LONG BEACH (AP) — The future is so bright for the Connecticut Sun that Courtney Williams wore shades after Sunday’s game and gave a hilarious play-by-play of her pep talk to every teammate, including what she told star point guard Jasmine Thomas.
“I feel like we were just doing what we do. There’s not really a magic potion to it,” Williams said. “I walk up to (No.) 5 and I say, ‘you’re a dog. Do what you do.’ “
Thomas obliged with a career playoff-best 29 points and Williams added 17 points and a career-high 13 rebounds to lead Connecticut to a 78-56 win in Game 3 of the WNBA semifinals and give the Sun a sweep of the series Sunday.
Connecticut advances to the WNBA Finals for the first time since 2005, where it will play either Washington or Las Vegas. The Mystics have a 2-1 series lead over the Aces.
“It feels really good, you play all season for this moment here,” Thomas said. “To know all we’ve been though and we’re still going to the finals. This group has been together so long, and we deserve to be here.”
Nneka Ogwumike had 17 points to lead the Sparks. Candace Parker was held to just four points. She played just 11 minutes in the game. She sat out the second quarter and took one shot in the third quarter before going to the bench with 5:54 left. She didn’t return to the game.
“Just trying to do as much as I could in the moment to help the team,” said Derek Fisher, the first-year Sparks coach. “We talked before the game. It wasn’t an injury or any like specific like ‘this is why I’m not going to play Candace.’ But just trying to find energy, find spark, find physicality and things we were continuing to try to search for throughout the course of the game.
“We’ve had an issue sustaining energy for 40 minutes against this team in this series. Also just trying to get fresh bodies in so we could continue to bang and rebound and run the floor and communicate defensively. It wasn’t a way to single her out. Riquna (Williams) played 17 minutes. TRP (Tierra Ruffin-Pratt) played 12 minutes. I know it’s Candace Parker and we’re going to try to make it about her 11 minutes but it was just about trying to do something different that would try to help us win.”
Parker said she was “perfectly fine” heath-wise. In regards to her limited playing time, Parker said: “You’ve got to ask Fish that.”
Asked how frustrating it was, Parker said “Obviously, every player wants to be out there.”
Thomas scored 14 of her 29 points in the third quarter on 6-for-7 shooting to lead the Sun to a 63-44 lead heading into the final quarter. Thomas made big shot after big shot for the Sun. Connecticut led 40-32 at halftime. Thomas had a team-best 11 points in the first half on 3 of 4 shots — all 3-pointers. She took the Sun’s first shot of the third quarter, a 3-pointer, and made it.
Williams scored the first seven points for the Sun. The Sparks starters combined for just seven points in the first quarter and were a combined 3-for-15 from the field.
The Sun shot 43.8 percent in the first half while Los Angeles was just 34.9 percent from the field. The Sparks made just 1 of 13 3-pointers in the first half.
NOT HOME SWEET HOME
The game was played at Long Beach State because the Sparks’ normal home Staples Center wasn’t available.
“We just had a swagger in this series,” Sun coach Curt Miller, a former Sparks assistant coach, said. “As physical and intense as it got, I thought we were more aggressive. Ultimately, we continued to keep moving them. We looked like the energy team. We didn’t want to get back to Staples.”
Among the celebrities in attendance were Billie Jean King and actress Vivica A. Fox.
Each team had just one offensive rebound in the first quarter. The Sparks had four in the second quarter with the Sun grabbing two in the second. By the time the game was three quarters old, the Sun had outrebounded the Sparks 35-23.