The IX: Basketball Wednesday with Howard Megdal, October 9, 2019

On belief and the WNBA Finals — Must-read women's basketball links — Sun speak

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“We know we’re the only ones that knew”

The easiest way to describe the conventional wisdom, as it applies to the Connecticut Sun, would be respectful doubts.

That is to say, it oversimplifies the matter to think of the Sun as a plucky underdog nobody believed in. But it’s also fair to say that few people had them here, in the final game of the WNBA season possible, with one win separating them from a WNBA championship on Thursday night.

The extended run has given fans and journalists alike an incredible meal for the senses, and Game 4’s 90-86 Sun win on Tuesday night might be the highest level of basketball we’ve seen from the WNBA yet — quite an accomplishment in a year when so many of the league’s best players, from Breanna Stewart to Diana Taurasi to Maya Moore, were not present.

But the reason the Sun are here, and the Mystics as well, is a simple one. There are players up and down the roster who can score, take over games if necessary, and defend. Aerial Powers as a bench option is an absurd luxury. Morgan Tuck as a bench option is equally shocking. Both are top-five picks with a rich pedigree of success here and overseas, and both of them are surplus to needs in the starting lineups of championship teams.

There are simply more skilled players doing more on these two teams than any we’ve seen in league history. Whatever happens Thursday, the bar has been raised.

What happens that night, perhaps in a way that goes beyond Elena Delle Donne’s transcendence or Jonquel Jones’ ability to stake a claim on the top spot in the league, a place previously reserved for Delle Donne and Stewart in the projected future debates about the W, may be decided most by the loudest voices in the respective locker rooms, which belong to Williams and Natasha Cloud for the Sun and Mystics, respectively.

It’s hard for me not to watch Williams through the lens of a father, which, to be clear, is not me invoking “as the father of daughters” trope as any special insight or protection against attack. (Seriously, father of daughters, this is not some special class, let it go.) But watching Williams be completely and uncritically loved by her father, and the resulting level of confidence she displays, it would be foolish not to take some parenting lessons away from how that relationship has yielded such a strong woman.

Cloud, too, is an object lesson in changing your narrative, from a competent Atlantic 10 guard at the outskirts of the league to the pulse of this Mystics team. In a series where everything seems to change by the game, Cloud has been the metronomic force on both ends.

Fittingly, Cloud has guaranteed a title. Williams has been guaranteeing one all year.

Thursday night, we’ll find out who knew all along.

This week in women’s basketball

So many game stories. Start here, with Ava Wallace.

Molly Yanity looks at what Curt Miller means in macro terms for the gay community.

Great to see Alanna Smith healthy and back on the court.

PJ Brown remains a gift on the Arizona beat. An absolute gift.

It’s going to be a fun year in the WCC.

MJ Slaby has five coaching candidates for the Indiana Fever to consider. (Brandi Poole should be on this list, imo.)

Ramona Shelburne’s blockbuster ended Penny Toler’s tenure with the Los Angeles Sparks. Great, important reporting the league needs.

An extended playoff run means stories about everyone.

Geno’s warning you, listen up.

Customary excellence from Matt Ellentuck on Alyssa Thomas.

Madeline Kenney talks 2020 with Diamond DeShields.

Geoff Magliocchetti sat down with Cathy Engelbert.

Samantha Allen now has a WNBA podcast!

Bradley Beal talks about the WNBA CBA like Michele Roberts should.

It’s Michelle Smith Pac-12 season, y’all.

Jemele Hill spoke to Maya Moore.

Louisa Thomas on the WNBA Finals was just exquisite.

Here, end with Mike DiMuro on the sound of Game 4.

Tweet of the Week

Stat of the week

Some big-time performances from beyond the arc this postseason.

Five at The IX: Connecticut Sun postgame goodness

Q. Jazz [Jasmine Thomas], down the stretch, you hit a three, I think Shekinna [Stricklen] hit a three, [the Mystics] hit a three, but it was defense in the last two minutes and they didn�t score. Were you surprised what it came down to? And it looked like it was going to be whoever got the last shot but it was whoever got the last stop won the game.
JASMINE THOMAS: Yeah, we talked about the whole second half, in all our huddles, whether it was in a timeout, we talked about defense and stops is what was going to win us the game.

Q. Courtney [Williams], Jonquel [Jones], it seemed like beyond your offense in this game, your defense found another level. Courtney, first with your steals and deflections, and then Jonquel, if you’d talk to adjustments you made in terms of rim protecting tonight.
COURTNEY WILLIAMS: I thought we just stayed aggressive. Our teammates definitely challenged me personally and told me that regardless of what my offense is, I’ve still got to get after it on defense. So I think just keeping that mentality and knowing like, we’ve just got to play hard, I mean, our back was against the wall, so we had to get to it.

JONQUEL JONES: Yeah, just piggybacking off of that, I think I had to look within myself. I felt like in the last game, Meesseman was able to get straight line drives against me and it was very disappointing, especially going back and watching it. So I just wanted to challenge myself in that way. She’s a great three-point shooter but I think I can contest and be able to keep it in front of me.

And then all together, us as a team had a mindset just to play tough defense. We knew at the end of the day it would come down to a stop, it would come down to us being physical and getting that. So I think we did really well on the defensive side, and that’s why we won the game.

Q. Jonquel, when you look into yourself, do you see a nasty person?
JONQUEL JONES: In what sense?

Q. I mean nasty like when you get in the paint, do you feel like, I’m going to kick her butt?
JONQUEL JONES: Yeah, in a sense — I am a dog, but I feel like it’s my job to just go in there and change the game with my rebounds, being physical inside the post. I felt like the last game they were able to keep me off the boards because they were holding me down. So I just had to shove back. I was waiting on the refs to call something and they weren’t calling, so I had to get physical, too, and that’s how it is.

Q. When she’s like that, when she gets in that mode, how do you guys feel (directed to Courtney and Jasmine)?
COURTNEY WILLIAMS: I told her at halftime, I said, J, I don’t care what they’re doing to you. I don’t care how physical they are. I don’t care if they’re beating you up, stay doing what you’re doing because that’s huge. What you’re doing is huge for us right now. So regardless of what they’re doing, I don’t care how much they’re beating you up, you’re a dog. So stay after it, baby, because that’s huge for us.

Q. For all three of you, Curt [Miller] was just in here talking about if you’re a kid and you grow up playing basketball, you dream of playing in a Game 7 or a Game 5. What does this mean for you guys and how excited are you?
JASMINE THOMAS: It means a lot. It means everything. Just how hard we fight, how much this means to us, we talked about this whole playoff time like us being disrespected and people thinking we’re just going to give up easy, and we’re not. We’re going to fight every single second because we deserve to win a championship, as well.


Q. With the team just having sort of its playoff disappointments the last couple years, how has it been just to have this deep playoff run, especially getting these deep playoff games at home, especially a game like we just saw?
JONQUEL JONES: I think we always knew that we could do this. I think we were in a tough situation with the single-elimination games. I think in a single-elimination game sometimes things don’t bounce your way, things don’t go your way, and so you lose one game and you’re out. Well, we knew we were a team that were able to do this, and we’re not shocked to be here.

We’re excited to be here. We understand that we’re one game away from accomplishing our dreams and accomplishing the things that we knew that we could do.

Q. After the end of that third quarter when it was tied at 68, the 18-point lead was gone, what was the message to the team at that point?
COURTNEY WILLIAMS: Jazz came over to us and she said, it’s 0-0, it’s time to get back to it. We knew they were going to go on a run. I mean, we didn’t know they were going to go on that type of run, but we knew that we had to get after it. We knew we had to stay mentally strong. We know that basketball is a game of runs, so we knew that our mentality was just get stops and knock down buckets, and that’s what we did.

Q. Courtney and J.J., can you answer the question that Jazz answered before just about what it means to be playing for a championship and a Game 5 on Thursday?
JONQUEL JONES: Yeah, I mean, it means a lot. We were the kids in the driveway, like Coach was saying, shooting up shots and saying it’s a game — we were saying it was Game 7, in this case it’s a Game 5. So it means a lot. We understand that we just have a lot of work to do, but at the end of the day, it’s really good to just sit in the moment and realize where you are and then worry about that when the game day comes, as well. It’s awesome.

COURTNEY WILLIAMS: I mean, we’re not satisfied. Nobody thought we were going to be here, especially Ari (Chambers). She thought we were going to go out in the semis, but we keep that chip on our shoulder. We know we’re the only ones that knew we were going to be here, other than my daddy back there and the lovely parents.

So we keep that chip on our shoulder and we knew what we could do, and now it’s time to go get one in D.C.

Q. Jazz, can you just talk about what it’s going to come down to in Game 5? You guys are two very evenly matched teams. What’s it going to come down to?
JASMINE THOMAS: I mean, our teams are very evenly matched, both coaches, both staff have been putting together great game plans, and we’re playing good basketball on both sides. It’s going to come down to the little things, who wants it more, who’s going to sacrifice their body, who’s going to be willing to leave it all out there no matter what. We’re playing with a roster of 12 people that we know we can throw in there and everybody is ready to play.

So it’s going to come down to us staying together as a team and fighting until the end.

Mondays: Soccer
By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson AP Women’s Soccer
Tuesdays: Tennis
By Lindsay Gibbs, @Linzsports Burn It All Down podcast
Wednesdays: Basketball
By: Howard Megdal, @HowardMegdal High Post Hoops
Thursdays: Golf
By Carly Grenfell, @Carlygren
Fridays: Hockey
By: Erica Ayala, @ELindsay08 NWHL Broadcaster

Written by Howard Megdal

Howard is the founder of The Next and editor-in-chief.