During free agency, the Sun appeared to be building another title contender.
They added the veteran forward DeWanna Bonner, a three-time All-Star and two-time champion, through a sign-and-trade with Phoenix. And they still had Thomas, who is nicknamed the Engine because of her rugged competitiveness and versatility in defending all five positions, scoring and facilitating.
But the two-time All-Star center Jonquel Jones, who led the league in rebounding and blocks in 2019, opted out of the season because of concerns about the coronavirus pandemic. Guards Briann January and Natisha Hiedeman were out early after testing positive for the virus. The Sun lost their first five games, a deep hole in a truncated 22-game season.
“That emotional side kind of takes over,” Bonner said. “It’s kind of like, ‘Man, we’re in this slump.’ The energy around the team was just OK. People were starting to fade out a little bit.”
Bonner said the team got a big boost from the return of January, a veteran known for her tenacious on-ball defense and positive leadership. Miller countered the mental toll of the bubble environment with humor by wearing wacky, colorfully patterned shirts on the sideline. Players on the bench began orchestrating elaborate celebrations for big plays, like pretending to faint or bunny-hopping in a line.
Earlier this month, Miller wanted to take advantage of a light recovery day between games. It was time for the family dinner. Players and staff members sat in a circle, where Miller said “we all learned a little more about each other.”
Connecticut finished the regular season 10-12, leaning on a defense that ranked fourth in the league with 99.5 points allowed per 100 possessions. The Sun beat sixth-seeded Chicago, 94-81, in the single-elimination first round, then blew past third-seeded Los Angeles, 73-59, to advance to the semifinal series. Connecticut dominated Game 1 against Las Vegas, 87-62, then lost an 83-75 heartbreaker in Tuesday’s Game 2 with Thomas sidelined.
Thomas was already playing with partially torn labrums in both shoulders. But when she hit the floor in visible agony less than five minutes into Game 2, the Sun adjusted on the fly, at times playing three lineups that had never shared the floor together. Rookies Beatrice Mompremier and Kaila Charles were part of the rotation. Jasmine Thomas played through plantar fasciitis, while January wore a brace protecting a dislocated finger. Alyssa Thomas joined the bench late wearing a sling, and watched as A’ja Wilson, the newly crowned most valuable player, collected two big and-one layups to propel Las Vegas to victory.