Down 2-0 in the WNBA Finals to the Las Vegas Aces and facing elimination as the series shifted back to Uncasville for Game 3, the Connecticut Sun needed someone to step forward, take command and tell the rest of the team to follow their lead. As has been the case so often this season, that player was Alyssa Thomas.
Her teammates love to describe Thomas as the team’s engine, and on Thursday night, she was shifted into overdrive as she powered the Sun to a season-saving 105-76 win and made sure there would be a Game 4 on Sunday.
“What’s remarkable, you guys, is [she plays with such toughness] every day,” Sun coach Curt Miller said. “She doesn’t know how else to play. So if we are playing, and we are not going 75 percent or we’re not skeleton or we’re not doing something 50 percent, if we are playing, that’s how AT plays. And that’s what’s different.”
“She’s probably the toughest player I’ve ever coached, but she’s the most consistent player in terms of effort that I’ve ever been around. I know what I’m going to get every single day if that’s how she plays, and that’s what makes her special. She doesn’t know how to play other than that way.”
Finishing with 16 points, 15 rebounds, and 11 assists on 8 of 14 from the field, Thomas recorded the first triple-double in WNBA Finals history. She also joined Sheryl Swoopes and Courtney Vandersloot as the only players with triple-doubles in the playoffs and tied Candace Parker and Sabrina Ionescu atop the all-time triple-double leaderboard with three.
As expected, Thomas wasn’t too concerned with her history-making performance and gave credit to her teammates for making it happen.
“For me, I approached the game like I approached any other game,” Thomas said. “I think we just wanted it. We’ve been struggling offensively. We haven’t really been hitting shots, and tonight, we came out ready. My teammates hit their shots and I always say without them, none of these triple-doubles are possible.”
The Sun’s finishing and shotmaking were indeed on point on Thursday. Thomas herself knocked down a number of her patented one-hand push shots from 8-12 feet that the Aces have been letting her take. But she was also orchestrating the offense to perfection, creating easy looks for her teammates that led to such an efficient night; Sun shot 55.8 percent from the field, which was their second-highest field goal percentage in a playoff game in franchise history.
Time and again, Thomas got into the paint and drew defenders, then found her open teammates.
And even when it seemed like no one was open she would still manage to find an angle or drop a pass over the defense.
“We put the ball in her hands a lot tonight, and when things work as a coach, you feel really good that you pushed some right buttons,” Miller said. “But she’s so unselfish. You know, she and Candace are the two best facilitating forwards in the world, and it’s just really fun to watch non-point guards share it. And tonight, she just sprayed the ball around all night, and it was fantastic to watch.”
While defense typically isn’t a major part of the story when it comes to triple-doubles, Thomas’ effort on that side of the ball cannot be discounted. She spent most of the game matched up with Kiah Stokes or Dearica Hamby, which allowed her to play almost as a free safety on the backline. Her relentless activity gave the Sun’s perimeter defenders the freedom to play with so much aggression.
“They gave me a lot of freedom with my matchup,” Thomas said. “I’m able to roam around and be the ultimate helper. That’s what I love to do. I love to be in all the action. They try to keep me away from the screen, so yeah, I like to be where the action is. So I’m wherever the ball is and trying to help my teammates whenever they need help.”
As great as Thomas and the Sun were in Game 3, they’re still in a significant hole and face long odds of winning the title; teams that have gone down 2-0 in the Finals are 0-15 all-time. But Thursday night showed that they aren’t going down without a fight. They’re 4-0 in elimination games this postseason and will do everything in their power to make it 5-0 on Sunday.
[This game represented] toughness,” Miller said. “You know, a grit, a fight, that we’re not going to go away; that we are going to force Vegas to beat us.. all the adversity that we have overcome to put ourselves in this position is just — I’m so proud of them that they just continue to have a grit and a fight and a determination about them.”