CHICAGO - Alyssa Thomas worked hard for eight months rehabbing her torn Achilles’ tendon to be able to provide a spark for the Connecticut Sun in the playoffs.
The Sun’s "engine" did just that, scoring 15 points and providing a defensive presence to help the team even their best-of-five series with the Chicago Sky at one win apiece with a 79-68 victory Thursday night.
"You think how far ahead of schedule she is in her Achilles’ rehab to get back at all and playing (is amazing).," Connecticut coach Curt Miller said. "To play in this environment in this big a game and have that tenacity and intensity is remarkable. Players have to follow her and respect her. a night when it wasn’t (Jonquel Jones’) night. her presence for us was invaluable."
Thomas, who has played through shoulder injuries throughout her career, was able to return from a surgery in January from an injury she suffered playing overseas last winter.
"This is one of the hardest things I’ve gone through," she said. "I watched them get after it every game and in practice that pushed me even harder to get back to this moment."
The Sun won despite WNBA MVP Jones scoring just four points. She didn’t score until 3:11 left in the third quarter and missed seven of her nine shot attempts.
"You hate to waste one of those good defensive games on her with a loss," Chicago coach James Wade said. "It teaches you something for the next game."
Thomas made up for it.
"You’ve seen her do it over her career. She’s the toughest player to play this game," Sun guard Jasmine Thomas said. "To see her come back at a time where that’s what we were missing."
The Sun trailed 59-58 heading into the fourth quarter before starting the period on a 13-3 run to take command. Thomas had six points during the game-changing spurt. DeWanna Bonner capped it with a 3-pointer with 3:59 left that made it 71-62. Bonner also had 15 points.
The Sky could only get within six the rest of the way. The series shifts to Chicago on Sunday for Game 3.
Chicago looked poised early on to build on the momentum of its Game 1 double-overtime win, racing out to an 11-0 lead. Connecticut rallied back behind Jasmine Thomas to get within 23-21 after one.
The Sun led 45-39 at the half behind strong play from Jasmine Thomas, who finished the opening 20 minutes with 12 points.
Kahleah Copper led Chicago with 13 points and Candace Parker added 12.
Both teams are going to have adventures getting to Chicago on Friday.
"We are on three separate flights at two separate airports in order to try and keep some of our players that are much taller than I am out of middle seat," he said. "I’ve been told it’s a very similar case for Chicago, which wouldn’t surprise me. We booked our flights sooner than Chicago did. That was going to be the case no matter if we went to Seattle, Phoenix or Chicago.
Miller said his team would be flying out of both airports in Boston and Connecticut.
Wade said that the team will be leaving at 3:30 a.m. to get to the airport in time to fly to Chicago on three different flights.
"We wish we could charter. It’s something that’s been in the conversation for years," Jasmine Thomas said. "Especially during the playoffs. Both teams are going through similar things."
Jasmine Thomas celebrated her 32nd birthday on Thursday. ... The Sun outrebounded the Sky 39-26 — a vast difference from Game 1 when both teams had 42 boards. ... Courtney Vandersloot, who had the second triple-double in WNBA playoff history in Game 1 was held to just 10 points and six assists in Game 2.
BET ON IT
The Mohegan Sun Casino opened up a sportsbook Thursday and Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont placed the first bet, wagering $50 that the Sun will beat the Chicago Sky by at least 7 points. He won his bet.