The Connecticut Sun bounced back from their Game 1 loss to defeat the Washington Mystics 99-87 in Game 2 of the 2019 WNBA Finals presented by YouTube TV. Tied at 1-1, the series now shifts to Connecticut for the next two games, with Game 3 set for Sunday, Oct. 6.
Here are five key takeaways from Connecticut’s Game 2 win.
Jonquel Jones Makes Finals History
If there was one message that was loud and clear from the Connecticut Sun following their Game 1 loss is that they had to get Jonquel Jones more involved offensively, get her more touches and play through her more. Well, mission accomplished.
After finishing with 12 points (on eight shot attempts) and six rebounds (none offensive) in Game 1, Jones put together a game for the record books on Tuesday with 32 points and 18 rebounds, including a WNBA Finals record nine offensive rebounds in Game 2.
The Sun went to Jones on their opening possession with a post up against Elena Delle Donne. And even though she missed the shot, the tone was set that JJ was going to be a focal point all night long. Jones would miss her first four shots of the game before getting on the board with one of her three 3-pointers with 3:31 left in the first quarter.
“I think I just got on the offensive glass a lot, and that allowed me to really get everything else going,” Jones said after the game. “Obviously my teammates were looking for me, and we talked about getting me the ball more in Game 2, and I just wanted to deliver.”
What Jones delivered was the first 30-point, 15-rebound game in WNBA Finals history, and only the third to ever be posted in WNBA Playoffs as she joined Candace Parker (2012) and Lisa Leslie (2001) in accomplishing the feat.
Jones had 18 points and 10 rebounds by the end of the first half, helping the Sun take a 10-point advantage into the locker room. She added 14 more points in the second half to eclipse the 30-point barrier for the first time in her career (regular season or playoffs).
Her 32 points are tied for the fifth-most ever scored in a WNBA Finals game and the most since 2011, when Angel McCoughtry scored 38 and Seimone Augustus scored 36 in an epic scoring duel in Game 2 of the 2011 WNBA Finals.
The only thing that slowed Jones down on Tuesday night was foul trouble as she picked up five personal fouls and was forced to the bench at times, which allowed Washington to work its way back into the game, eventually overcoming a 14-point deficit to tie the game at 76 early in the fourth quarter.
“I think I kind of got a little too caught up in trying to get the blocks and swinging versus staying straight up, and I think that’s how I got the fouls,” she said. “So just being smarter, coming out there and understanding that it was a tight game and I needed to be on the court.”
Board Women Even Series
The Sun dominated the boards in Game 2, finishing with a 41-27 edge overall and a 17-6 advantage on the offensive glass. In fact, the Connecticut duo of Jones (18) and Alyssa Thomas (12) outrebounded the entire Mystics team 30-27 on Tuesday.
In Game 1, Delle Donne became just the third player ever – and the first in 12 years – to post a 20-point, 10-rebound, 5-assist game in the WNBA Finals. Well it took just two days for the fourth such game to be posted as Thomas finished with 21 points, 12 rebounds and six assists for the Sun in Game 2.
If there is one number to remember from Game 2 it is 12. Not only was that the final margin of victory for the Sun (99-87), but it was also the number of additional shots that Connecticut attempted (84-72) thanks to their dominance on the offensive glass. The Sun finished with 28 second-chance points compared to just 10 for the Mystics, with Jones (16) and Thomas (nine) leading the way.
“[Jones] went and created a lot of her own offense, even when we weren’t playing through her, and that was just huge for us for second opportunities,” said Sun coach Curt Miller after the game.
“Man, JJ was going crazy today. I told her, I felt like I could pull the ball from half court and she was going to look out for me and get the rebound,” said Sun guard Courtney Williams, who finished with 22 points. “That’s huge when she has that mindset to go get every ball, every rebound.”
Jones (32 points), Williams (22 points) and Thomas (21 points) became the second trio of teammates to each score at least 20 points in a WNBA Finals game. Phoenix’s Cappie Pondexter (23), Penny Taylor (23) and Diana Taurasi (22) were the first to do it during the 2009 Finals, although that was an overtime game; the Sun trio did it in regulation.
Elena Delle Donne Exits Early, Status Unknown
After Washington’s Game 1 win, Elena Delle Donne was asked how it felt to be healthy for this year’s Finals after she was hampered by a bone bruise in her knee in last year’s series against the Storm.
“It feels great to know that I’m able to actually give everything I have,” she said. “Last playoffs I gave everything I had, but that was about 70 percent. Just physically I wasn’t there.”
What Delle Donne did not disclose is that she has been battling tightness in her back late in the season. ESPN’s Holly Rowe reported that Delle Donne did not practice much on Monday due to a back issue and sure enough after just 3 minutes and 28 seconds into Game 2, Delle Donne headed to the locker room with back spasms that would keep her out for the rest of the game.
“It wasn’t good; on the very first layup that she went up for, it grabbed on her and she came down and just immediately said get me a sub,” said Mystics coach Mike Thibault.
“She’s just had ongoing late in the season tightness and we’ve been able to treat it and its responded pretty well and she’s been okay,” Thibault added. “But it’s the one nightmare I’ve had for the last month is seeing her lying on her back. I watched that in  when she was in Chicago and it wasn’t a good sight for them and it wasn’t a good sight for me now.”
As Thibault mentioned this nightmare has been a bit of déjà vu for Delle Donne in the WNBA Finals. In 2014 with the Sky, she was hampered by back issues that limited her movement in a series that ended in a sweep. In 2018 with Washington, she had the bone bruise in her knee in another series that ended in a sweep, and now in 2019, it is her back once again.
Thibault said that Delle Donne will undergo an MRI tomorrow and that it will likely be a couple days before they know what the tests show and what the treatment plan looks like to see if she could be available for Game 3 on Sunday. Thibault admitted that the four-day break in the Finals schedule between Games 2 and 3 was not something he was looking forward to at the onset of the series, but he now sees it as a benefit for the Mystics now since it gives them additional time to treat Delle Donne.
“I don’t know what happened. I don’t even know where Delly is right now,” said Kristi Toliver after the game. “You know, it’s all about who’s on the floor at that time, and we have people that stepped up today. We just were rolling with who we got. This one over here [Tianna Hawkins] did a great job filling in those shoes.”
Starters Vs. Bench
With Delle Donne out, the Mystics had to rely more heavily on their bench as they tried to rally from a 14-point deficit in the first half. And the bench responded in a major way.
Emma Meesseman ended up playing starters’ minutes (36) in place of Delle Donne and finished with team highs of 23 points and eight rebounds. Washington also got huge contributions from Tianna Hawkins (16 points on 6-8 shooting, 3-4 from three to go with six rebounds) and Aerial Powers (11 points and three rebounds in 16 minutes).
The Mystics bench scored 52 points for the game, compared to just 35 for their starting five. Washington’s bench players combined to shoot 20-34 (58.8%) compared to 14-38 (36.8%) by the starters. Both units attempted 11 3-pointers, with the bench making four compared to the starters’ three.
“We have the best bench in the league,” Toliver said. “Everybody knows that. Connecticut knows that. We’ve relied on them so much this year and through injuries and people being out. That’s to me the difference between our team last year and this year. The bench has just out-performed everyone that they’ve played against, and the energy they bring and the shots they make, we need that. We’re going to continue to need that in this series.”
Hawkins, who played a total of 24 minutes in Washington’s past four playoff games combined, was ready to play 23 solid minutes when Thibault called her number on Tuesday.
“It’s a mental game, and just knowing that it’s your — well, I know my opportunities are different each night, and just constantly telling myself to stay ready when my name is called,” she said.
The Sun were polar opposites to the Mystics in Game 2 as they relied heavily on their starters once again, with that five-player lineup producing 90 of Connecticut’s 99 points on the night. The Sun bench has scored a total of 66 points in five games combined between the Semifinals and Finals. Meanwhile, the Mystics reserves have 169 points this postseason.
Flipping The Script
In many ways Game 2 was a reversal of Game 1 in terms of game flow. In Game 1, it was Washington that got off to a fast start, built a double-digit lead by the end of the first quarter and spent the rest of the game fending off Connecticut’s comebacks until they eventually pulled away for the win.
First Quarter: Washington 30, Connecticut 17
Final 3 Quarters: Connecticut 69, Washington 65
In Game 2, it was Connecticut that struck first as they led by 12 at the end of the first quarter thanks to 20 combined points from Jones, Williams and Alyssa Thomas. Now it was the Sun’s turn to play with the lead and the Mystics’ turn to scratch and claw their way back into the game (only they had to do so without their best player, something the Sun did not have to deal with in Game 1).
First Quarter: Connecticut 29, Washington 17,
Final 3 Quarters: Connecticut 70, Washington 70
While the Sun were able to rally from a 17-point deficit to cut the Mystics lead to four points during Game 1, they were unable to tie the game or take the lead. In Game 2, the Mystics erased all of Connecticut’s 14-point lead to tie the game at 76 early in the fourth quarter. But just like the Mystics responded to the Sun rally in Game 1, the Sun had an answer in Game 2 as they used a quick 6-0 run to take the lead back and never let Washington get closer than three points the rest of the way.