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Connecticut Sun coach Curt Miller knows his team won’t be able to beat the defending WNBA champions on style points or offensive prowess alone.
To beat the Chicago Sky in a five-game series, Miller believes you can’t be afraid to make a mess.
“A lot of free-flowing offenses of the four teams left, and we know who we are,” Miller said. “We’re blue-collar. We’re going to be good around the basket, we’re going to rebound and we’re going to defend our tails off. But we have to make it messy.”
DeWanna Bonner had 15 points and nine rebounds to lead the Sun to a 68-63 victory over Sky in Game 1 of their WNBA semifinals series on Sunday night.
Jonquel Jones scored 12 points and also grabbed nine rebounds for the Sun, Alyssa Thomas had 12 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists, and Brionna Jones added 12 points. Jonquel Jones was 5 for 8 from the field and Brionna Jones shot 6 for 8.
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“We’ve got so many weapons on this team,” Bonner said. “Whoever they focus on, it could be anybody’s night. (Jonquel Jones) hit the biggest shot of the game, probably, when we were down one or two.”
Candace Parker had 19 points and 18 rebounds for the Sky, and Kahleah Copper scored 13 points on 5-for-10 shooting. Chicago had a season-low 63 points and shot 35.3% for its lowest percentage in a playoff game since 2014.
“We missed some bunnies, we missed a few chippers,” Sky coach James Wade said. “A couple of times, we got out of pick and rolls and we had shots at the rim, but we didn’t make them. We’ve just got to make those shots.”
Game 2 is Wednesday night in Chicago.
After Emma Meeseman’s 3-pointer with 2:12 remaining gave Chicago a 63-62 lead and whipped the Wintrust Arena crowd into a frenzy, the Sky missed their final four shots.
Jonquel Jones scored inside 27 seconds later to put the Sun back ahead. Bonner made two free throws with 1:31 left to extend the lead, Connecticut got two offensive rebounds to kill some time off the clock and Bonner made a layup with 3.8 seconds left to seal the win.
Brionna Jones said the Sun did well in executing their aggressive game plan, but another key was only fouling seven times while playing physically. Chicago went 7 of 9 at the line.
“It’s definitely a point of emphasis,” Brionna Jones said. “We’ve got to keep them off the free throw line.”
Connecticut outscored Chicago 20-12 in the third quarter as Natisha Hiedeman and Bonner made 3s and Bonner hit a pull-up jumper to move into double figures.
Parker strung a slick pass to Copper in transition for her first bucket since the first quarter to pull Chicago to within four points with 8:47 left.
Miller said veterans such as Bonner and Thomas kept the Sun composed as the home crowd tried to will Chicago to a win.
“We were rattled in the fourth quarter, and our veterans settled down and we made enough plays to win this game,” Miller said. “This is what this series against each other has really come down to, those last couple of minutes, over and over and over again. Tonight, we made those plays.”
Copper went 4 of 4 and hit a 3 for 11 points in the first half as the teams entered the break tied at 34.
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Connecticut built an eight-point first quarter lead by scoring 11 points off six Chicago turnovers, but the Sky climbed back into it as Copper and Parker combined for 18-first half points.
Jones hit 3 of 4 shots to lead Connecticut with eight points and snagged four rebounds and two steals in a first half that had seven lead changes and five ties.
Copper knocked down a pair of free throws to nudge Chicago in front with 5:13 to go, shortly before she and Courtney Williams received double technical fouls for refusing to let go of a called jump ball.
Stevens said the play was indicative of the tone for the rest of the series.
“They have beef with us from last year and all that, so it’s whoever wants it more,” Stevens said. “I think that play with Kah, that was great. That’s the type of series this is going to be. Who wants it more? Who is not going to let the ball go?”
Wade would like his team to play on the run more going forward, rather than getting into another dragged out, low-scoring affair.
“I felt like we played their style,” Wade said. “They wanted us to play their style of game where it was slow and methodical. We like to play a little bit more free.”
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Chicago totaled a season-high 10 blocks in the losing effort. … Parker passed Tamika Catchings for No. 1 all-time in WNBA playoff defensive rebounds with 450. … Thomas passed Nykesha Sales to become the Sun’s No. 2 career playoff scorer by reaching 1,080 points. … Parker is one playoff double-double short of tying Catchings (27) for most all-time in WNBA history. … Bonner moved into a tie for sixth in Sun history in playoff rebounds with 110.