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October 21, 2020
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WNBA playoffs 2020: Alyssa Thomas plays through pain to put Aces on brink of elimination

Alyssa Thomas grew weary a long time ago talking about her shoulder issues. As far as the Connecticut Sun forward is concerned, it’s just something she has long dealt with as a basketball player.

Still, when she went out because of a right shoulder injury just five minutes into Tuesday’s Game 2 of the WNBA semifinals against the Las Vegas Aces, it looked as if her shoulder issues might be too much this time.

But after Thomas got an X-ray and MRI and was told there was no further damage — that it would be a matter of her dealing with the pain — she knew she would play Thursday in Game 3 in Bradenton, Florida.

She didn’t just play. She dominated. Thomas was in for almost 39 minutes of the Sun’s 77-68 victory over the top-seeded Aces, and finished with 23 points, 12 rebounds and 4 assists.

Thomas now has seven playoff double-doubles since the start of the 2019 postseason; no other player has more than four during that span, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. And she did it Thursday despite having spent most of Tuesday’s game on the bench with her arm in a sling.

“I’ve never dislocated it like that,” Thomas said of what happened in Tuesday’s first quarter. “It was very painful going out and putting it back in. Next day I was super sore, as to be expected. But I’m used to it. That wasn’t going to stop me.

“I think we have a great opportunity in this series, and I want to be a part of it. Once I heard that it was up to me, I knew I’d be out there.”

The Sun finished on a 20-4 run after trailing 64-57; Thomas had eight of Connecticut’s points in that stretch.

Connecticut coach Curt Miller said he has come to expect a certain pragmatic stoicism from Thomas, who also played through pain (labral tears in each shoulder) in last year’s WNBA Finals loss to the Washington Mystics. Miller said Thursday that a lot was made of “another player” battling through injury in those Finals, while Thomas was doing the same thing. That, of course, was Washington’s Elena Delle Donne, who it was later revealed had three ruptured disks in her back.

Thomas’ shoulder issues haven’t been ignored; to the contrary, they’ve been discussed enough that it has seemed to irritate her at times. She’s not interested in contributing to the narrative about her valor in the face of acute shoulder trouble. That’s not her style; she just wants to play.

Thomas was asked if she thought her performance Thursday would be talked about for a long time and inspire other athletes.

“That’s not what it’s about for me,” she said. “It’s about my team, it’s about this season. I just want to be out there fighting with my team.

“It’s just something I’ve dealt with throughout my career. I’ve found a way to adapt, to change my game, to still be able to impact the game. I want a championship in the worst way, and the way we’re playing right now, our defense, this team’s special. It’s gonna take a lot to have me sit out.”

Loyd lights up Lynx

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Jewell Loyd gets the ball and increases the Storm’s lead over the Lynx with a 3-pointer.

Jewell Loyd’s confidence is soaring, and so are the Seattle Storm.

The Storm went up 2-0 in their semifinal series against the Minnesota Lynx with an 89-79 victory Thursday that once again showcased the Seattle guard. Loyd, the No. 1 draft pick and WNBA Rookie of the Year in 2015, had a team-high 20 points, along with 5 rebounds and 4 assists. She was 6-of-10 from the field and 4-of-6 from 3-point range. In this series, Loyd is 14-of-19 from the field and 8-of-11 from long range.

Loyd has been spectacular in September. In six regular-season and two playoff games this month, she is 51-of-95 (53.7%) from the field and 17-of-36 (47.2%) from 3-point range. She’s averaging 20.3 points in that eight-game stretch.

The Storm as a whole have been good, as they’ve put themselves one victory from the WNBA Finals. But Loyd, who averaged 15.5 points for the regular season, has been especially sharp.

“For me, it’s more just my preparation going into games,” Loyd said. “What we do at shootaround, the confidence my teammates have in me, the confidence I have in myself. I’m just trying to say present, efficient and poised.”

In the first quarter Thursday, Loyd took just one shot from the field. But she didn’t get frustrated.

“She’s extra confident with her 3, and that is what’s going in and kind of creating more separation for her,” Storm teammate Breanna Stewart said. “If she gets that going, then she can get to the basket, she can do whatever she wants.

“And also, she’s staying patient. You know, it might not be the first quarter or the second quarter, but she’s going to eventually create her own run for herself and for us, and has that kind of poise and maturity about her.”

Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeve said the Lynx are forcing Loyd to take some lower-percentage shots, but she’s still making them.

“She’s been a great player; it’s not something that she hasn’t [done],” Reeve said. “But the consistency she’s played with this year and her percentages and her efficiency [are] really high.”

Seattle depth too much for Minnesota

Four Seattle starters scored in double figures, but Minnesota matched that. The problem for the Lynx was the Storm got 21 points from their bench, led by Sami Whitcomb’s eight.

On a night when Stewart didn’t have her best offensive game — 17 points, but 0-for-7 from 3-point range — it really didn’t matter.

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0:18

A’ja Wilson gets the ball at the free throw line, makes a move and hits a jump shot over three Sun defenders.

Storm coach Gary Kloppenburg wasn’t thrilled that Seattle let the Lynx creep back into the game after leading by 21 points in the third quarter.

“You can’t have lapses; when you get a lead you really want to put the hammer down,” Kloppenburg said. “I thought we lost our focus a little bit, but we regrouped.”

Connecticut’s discipline does in Las Vegas

Miller has talked frequently about his team’s success whenever it takes care of the ball, and the Sun did that extremely well Thursday. They had only four turnovers for the game, compared to Las Vegas’ 15.

Miller also spoke of Thomas being “as competitive a person as I’ve ever been around,” but her teammates have matched her during these semifinals. Defensively, the Sun held the Aces to fewer than 70 points for the second time in the series. Las Vegas scored 62 in its series-opening loss.

Connecticut took Game 2 to the final minute as well, before Las Vegas prevailed 83-75. With Thomas back in Thursday, the Sun defense held the Aces to 38.8% shooting from the field.

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0:31

Breanna Stewart misses her shot but grabs her own rebound and scores on the second chance. Later in the fourth, Crystal Dangerfield scores a basket, but it isn’t enough as the Storm prevail for an 89-79 win.

Offensively, Brionna Jones (15 points, 10 rebounds) and DeWanna Bonner (12 points, 10 rebounds) joined Thomas with double-doubles.

“We’re confident and together as a team, more than we’ve been all season, and it feels good,” Sun point guard Jasmine Thomas said. “The momentum, we’re just gonna ride it out, get some rest, regroup and be ready to play tough on Sunday.”

Aces, Lynx have backs to the wall

Las Vegas is down 2-1 in its semifinal series, and Minnesota is down 2-0. Both need victories Sunday in the best-of-five WNBA semifinals to stay in the bubble.

The Lynx need to keep Napheesa Collier on the floor as much as possible, and try to counter Natasha Howard’s defense on her. Collier got into foul trouble Thursday, picking up her third in the second quarter, when the Storm outscored the Lynx 20-10.

Collier finished with 12 points on 5-of-14 shooting. She struggled in particular against Howard, going 0-for-6 against the Seattle forward as the primary defender, according to ESPN Stats & Info.

For the Aces, A’ja Wilson got 20 points and 12 rebounds, but she needs more help offensively. Angel McCoughtry had 14 points and Danielle Robinson 11 for Las Vegas.

“We need another shooter, somebody to step up and score,” Aces coach Bill Laimbeer said. “A shooter or an attacker. We need some other easy baskets.”

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