The Connecticut Sun never doubted that they would be here, in the WNBA Finals.
Before the season started they said this year was their year. It’s been everyone else who didn’t see them coming, who underestimated them, and overlooked their talent.
They have been described as having no superstar players and they have been called a team of “role players” on an ESPN broadcast. Those comments have lit a fire, and the Sun have taken the social media hashtag #disrespeCT to anchor their playoff run.
With the best-of-five finals series against the Mystics set to start Sunday afternoon in Washington, the team is unbothered, as they say.
“I think it put a chip on our shoulder. Definitely nobody picking us to win it, nobody even picking us to get to where we are right now,” said Courtney Williams, the combo guard with an impossible jumper. “I knew we was going to be here. Since the beginning, this has been our goal and I’ve been saying it. It’s not new for me. This is what we’ve been working hard for all season long.”
The core of the Sun, the five starters, have gelled from the beginning — their ball movement is a wonder to watch. There is Alyssa Thomas, the bulldog forward who put up two double-doubles in three playoff games despite having two torn labrums, rendering her barely able to lift her arms above her shoulders. There is Williams, who’s the spark and energy of the team, and guard Jasmine Thomas, the veteran who comes poised, but with a gritty hardness to her. Center Jonquel Jones can get crafty at every spot on the floor, dangerous both in the paint and from 3-point territory. And then there’s forward Shekinna Stricklen, the Sun’s resident 3-point expert.
The Sun went 23-11 this season, including being tied for the league’s best home record of 15-2. It wasn’t enough to get them on the national radar. They’ve been overlooked even by New England media, despite their games airing on NESNplus this year.
“It’s just how the league goes,” Alyssa Thomas said. “We’re not one of America’s teams. We’re not the [Los Angeles] Sparks or we don’t have MVPs or things like that, and it’s just about who the league chooses to talk about. We have three All-Stars on our team [Jones, Alyssa Thomas, and Jasmine Thomas], I think people forget to realize that, and Courtney should be an All-Star, as well. We’re super-talented.”
Securing the second playoff seed gave the Sun a ticket to the semifinal round, bypassing the two single-elimination rounds where they had been eliminated the previous two years. A sweep of the Sparks sent them to the Finals for the first time since 2005.
It’s taken putting up superhuman numbers on the court — Game 2 of the semifinals saw the Sun set a WNBA record with 29 rebounds in the first half, tie a playoff franchise record with 12 offensive rebounds in the first half, and tie another franchise record for points in a quarter with 29 — and entertaining the fans off it, for people to finally take notice of this team.
“What they been saying [about us]? We ain’t got no megastars? Some goofy junk like that,” Williams said. “We don’t get into all that hype. We know we can score and we’re not just set on one person going for 30 every night. We can win games without that. We can win games with anybody that has the hot hand stepping up and doing that for us.”
In the WNBA Finals, the Sun will face their biggest challenge of the season: the top-seeded Mystics, stacked with talent such as Elena Delle Donne, Emma Meesseman, and Kristi Toliver. The teams met three times in the regular season — the Sun took two of those games — but they haven’t played each other since June, when the Sun lost in a 102-59 blowout.
“That game was a fluke! We ain’t losing no game by no 40 points,” Williams said. “I don’t even remember that game to be honest with you, so I can’t even chime in on it.”
Coach Curt Miller agrees: “We’ve burned that tape.”
But the current versions of the Sun and the Mystics are not the same ones that met earlier. The Mystics, who have rewritten the WNBA record book when it comes to offensive metrics, will go up against a much-improved Sun defense, one that has been the most efficient so far in the playoffs. The Sun defense will be facing a fully healthy Washington offense for the first time.
But the Sun are ready. The second half of the season has seen a deepening of their defensive skills and a solidifying of the chemistry they’ve been feeling since Day One.
Williams believes the Sun are ready for the spotlight. In their minds, they’re all superstars, regardless of what the rest of the world has to say about them. And on Sunday, they’ll step onto the court to face the Mystics head on, both teams seeking the first championship in franchise history. This team is not a bunch of “role players,” it’s a bunch of players who know their roles well.
“We going to play Sun basketball, we going to get stops, we going to do what we do,” said Williams. “Yes, sir.”
WNBA Finals schedule
(Best-of-5; x-if necessary)
Sunday, Sept. 29: Connecticut at Washington, 3 p.m.
Tuesday, Oct. 1: Connecticut at Washington, 8 p.m.
Sunday, Oct. 6: Washington at Connecticut, 3:30 p.m.
x-Tuesday, Oct 8: Washington at Connecticut, 8 p.m.
x-Thursday, Oct. 10: Connecticut at Washington, 8 p.m.