WNBA Playoffs 2020 Semifinal Preview: (1) Las Vegas Aces vs. (7) Connecticut Sun

As the top-seeded Las Vegas Aces look to make their first Finals appearance since the franchise was in San Antonio in 2008, they face a Connecticut Sun team looking to get back to the Finals, where they finished as the runner up after a five-game series with Washington.

However, this is not the same Sun team that played in last year’s Finals. While Alyssa and Jasmine Thomas remain, the Sun added versatile wing DeWanna Bonner, veteran point guard Briann January and Brionna Jones has seen her role grow immensely with the absence of Jonquel Jones.

The Aces also have a revamped roster compared to last year’s squad that was eliminated in the Semifinals by Washington. Las Vegas lost two starters with Liz Cambage and Kelsey Plum both missing the season, but added veteran wing Angel McCoughtry, who has been a great complement to MVP A’ja Wilson as the Aces completed their best regular season in team history.

The Sun and Aces have four WNBA Finals appearances between them in their franchise histories – although Connecticut’s 2019 appearance is the only one in the past decade for either team. Both are still in search of their first WNBA championship.

Series Schedule

Game 1: Sunday, Sept. 20 – 1PM ET (ESPN)
Game 2: Tuesday, Sept. 22 – 9PM ET (ESPN2)
Game 3: Thursday, Sept. 24 – 7:30PM ET (ESPN2)
Game 4: Sunday, Sept. 27 – TBD (if needed)
Game 5: Tuesday, Sept. 29 – TBD (if needed)

How They Got Here

Las Vegas: The Aces earned a double-bye to the Semifinal round by finishing the regular season as the No. 1 seed. Las Vegas and Seattle both went 18-4 this season, with Vegas holding the head-to-head tiebreaker after beating the Storm on the final day of the regular season – it was Las Vegas’ sixth straight win.

Connecticut: As the No. 7 seed, the Sun have already had to endure a pair of single-elimination rounds to advance to the Semifinal round. Connecticut dispatched No. 6 Chicago in the First Round and took out No. 3 Los Angeles in the Second Round – winning both games by 13+ points.

Season Series (Las Vegas won 2-0)

Aug. 20: Las Vegas 99, Connecticut 78
Sept. 3: Las Vegas 93, Connecticut 78

The Aces swept the season series with the Sun, 2-0, winning by an average of 18 points. In the first matchup on Aug. 20, Kayla McBride scored a season-high 25 points while missing only one shot (career-best 9-10 FG, 7-7 FT) to lead four Aces in double figures in their 99-78 win.

In the second meeting on Sept. 3, A’ja Wilson scored a game-high 24 points on a season-best 76.9% (10-13) shooting, while Dearica Hamby and Jackie Young both scored 20 off the bench in the Aces’ 93-78 win.

The 21-point and 15-point losses were the second and third most lopsided defeats of the season for the Sun. DeWanna Bonner averaged a team-high 16 points against the Aces this season, while Alyssa Thomas had 15 points, 7 rebounds and 7 assists in the Aug. 20 matchup, but missed the Sept. 3 game.

Team Leaders

PTS Wilson (20.5) Bonner (19.7)
REB Wilson (8.5) A. Thomas (9.0)
AST Robinson (3.3) A. Thomas (4.8)
STL Hamby (1.7) *A. Thomas (2.0)
BLK *Wilson (2.0) Jones (0.7)
FG% Hamby (53.9) Jones (60.5)
3P% Hamby (47.4) January (36.7)
3PM McBride (1.1) Bonner (1.2)

*League Leader

Three Things to Watch

The MVP vs. the Engine

The forward matchup between A’ja Wilson and Alyssa Thomas will be key to watch in this series. Wilson was just named league MVP after averaging 20.5 points (2nd in WNBA), 8.5 rebounds (7th), 2.0 blocks (1st), 2.0 assists and 1.2 steals in her third WNBA season. The Aces went 14-1 this season when Wilson scores at least 20 points.

Thomas averaged 15.5 points (13th), 9.0 rebounds (2nd), 4.8 assists (6th) and 2.0 steals (1st) during the regular season and has been even better in the playoffs, with averages of 23.5 points, 10.0 rebounds, 6.5 assists and 1.5 steals in two win-or-go-home games.

Wilson and Thomas are two of the most efficient players in the league and both serve as the heartbeat of their respective teams on both ends of the court. Any opposing team’s scouting report begins with Wilson when playing the Aces and Thomas when playing the Sun.

Las Vegas’ Depth

The Aces have the highest scoring bench in the WNBA as the reserves average 35.0 points per game, while the Sun reserves rank 10th at 18.9 points per game. The Aces are led by the duo of Hamby (13.0 PPG) and Young (11.0), who rank second and fourth, respectively, in bench scoring among the 61 players that came off the bench for at least 10 games this season.

While Hamby and Young both start the game on the bench, they both essentially play starters minutes. Hamby (28.3) and Young (25.8) rank first and second, respectively, in bench minutes, but also rank 27th and 44th, respectively, among all players in minutes per game.

Las Vegas’ starting five ranked 11th in scoring (53.8 PPG) and is last among the final four teams in the playoffs, but they more than make up for it with their bench players as Las Vegas led the WNBA in scoring this season at 88.7 points per game.

Style of Play

Which team will dictate the style of play in this series? The Aces played at the fastest pace in the league during the regular season (82.57 possessions per 40 minutes), while the Sun ranked ninth (79.84).

Neither team utilized the 3-point shot very heavily on offense, although the Sun did match their season high with nine 3-pointers made in their Second Round win over Los Angeles. The Aces made (4.2) and attempted (11.5) the fewest 3-pointers of any team this season, although they did connect at the fourth-highest rate (36.6%) when they did shoot them. While they finished last with only 14.3% of their offense coming from beyond the arc, the Aces led all WNBA teams with 64.2% of their points coming on 2-pointers and 21.5% of their points coming on free throws.

The Aces (23.4) and Sun (20.0) ranked first and third, respectively, in free throw attempts per game, but the Sun shot a league-low 75.5% from the line, while Vegas finished eight at 81.5%.

Neither the Aces nor the Sun are known for their 3-point shooting. Las Vegas shoots the long ball well (36.6%, 4th in WNBA), but they attempt only 11.5 3-pointers per game, which ranks last in the league by a wide margin – the second-lowest team is Atlanta at 16.9 3PA, while Connecticut ranks 9th at 19.0 3PA per game.

Both teams are strong on the glass, with the Sun leading the WNBA in second-chance points (13.5 per game) during the regular season. In their two regular season meetings, the Sun averaged 14.5 second-chance points, which was the highest mark allowed by the Aces to any opponent this season.

Team Comparison

W-L 18-4 (1) 10-12 (7)
OffRtg 107.3 (2) 100.1 (10)
DefRtg 97.2 (2) 99.5 (4)
NetRtg 10.0 (2) 0.6 (7)
eFG% 50.7 (6) 46.9 (11)
AST% 63.5 (7) 61.7 (9)
TOV% 15.2 (1) 17.5 (5)
REB% 52.9 (1) 51.8 (2)
PACE 99.08 (1) 95.81 (9)
%PTS 2P 64.2 (1) 59.2 (4)
%PTS 3P 14.3 (12) 22.1 (10)
%PTS FT 21.5 (1) 18.8 (5)