WNBA playoffs: Sun sweep Sparks to reach finals; Aces stay alive vs. Mystics

Connecticut Sun's Bria Holmes and teammate Morgan Tuck celebrate during the second half of Game 2 of a WNBA basketball playoff game, Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019, in Uncasville, Conn. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
The Connecticut Sun are on to their first final appearance since 2005. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

“The House” looks good on them.

The No. 4 Las Vegas Aces shut down the No. 1 Washington Mystics’ league-leading offense, forcing a Game 4 with a 92-75 victory at Mandalay Bay Event Center, aka “The House,” on Sunday. The Mystics lead the best-of-five series, 2-1. Game 4 is back at Mandalay Bay on Tuesday.

The No. 3 Los Angeles Sparks — bounced from their own house at Staples Center due to the Emmy Awards — couldn’t do the same and were swept by the Connecticut Sun, 78-56, at Walter Pyramid on the Long Beach State campus.

The Sun have a week off before the 2019 WNBA Finals begin Sunday, Sept. 29.

Sun dominate Sparks again in game 3

Jasmine Thomas had the hot hand for the Sun, which will play in their first final since 2005. Connecticut has never won a WNBA title and lost back-to-back finals in 2004-05.

Thomas finished with a game-high 29-points on 11-of-14 shooting. She was 5-of-8 from the 3-point line, including 3-of-4 in the first. It was her only attempts as she reached 11 points in the half with two free throws. She had five rebounds, four assist and two steals.

Guard Courtney Williams, whose dad was in the stands, had a career-high 13 rebounds, 12 on the defensive end. She chipped in 17 points with four assists and two steals. No other Sun player had more than eight points and all but one player got on the scoreboard.

“Oh baby, we look good. Talk nice, talk nice, let’s go baby!” Williams told Holly Rowe about how her “role players” team has looked in the postseason.

The Sparks looked overwhelmed and uninspiring against the Sun again in game 3. They made runs early in the second quarter and again in the third, but were stymied at every comeback attempt. The team shot 30.7 percent overall and a mere 9.5 percent from 3-point range (2-of-21). They couldn’t get points at the charity stripe, either, shooting 8-of-12.

Los Angeles went on a 9-0 run that concluded 40 seconds into the second quarter to take its first and only lead, 16-14, since scoring the opening two baskets. It came with Alyssa Thomas on the bench after she earned her second foul late in the first quarter. It was the real minutes this series Thomas took to the bench (she left game 2 late and the game out of reach).

The Sparks went into the half trailing, 40-32, and came within six after Nneka Ogwumike free throws. The Sun went on an 11-2 run to lead, 51-36, and only allowed the Sparks to come within 11.

Candace Parker played only 11 minutes in the game, putting up a line of four points, three rebounds and two assists. Ogumwike was the Sparks offense with 17 points and six rebounds as her four fellow starters combined for 16 points and 11 rebounds.

Alexis Jones scored a second-best eight points and Kalani Brown had six rebounds off the bench.

The elimination game was played at Long Beach State due to the Emmy Awards’ red carpet outside of Staples Center. Los Angeles is 15-2 at home this season, tied for best in the league, and had rattled off 15 wins in a row there.

Las Vegas Aces center Liz Cambage, left, drives to the basket against Washington Mystics center Emma Meesseman during the second half of Game 2 of a WNBA playoff basketball series Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019, in Washington. Both were called for fouls. The Mystics won 103-91. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
Center Liz Cambage, left, led the Las Vegas Aces past the Washington Mystics in game 3 back home at Mandalay Bay Event Center to stay alive. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Cambage powers Aces to game 4

Las Vegas took its biggest lead of the series in the second quarter and capitalized on uncharacteristic Mystics mistakes and poor shooting. By the time they’d built an 18-point lead in the third quarter, they had an answer for any shot the Mystics mustered.

Liz Cambage and A’ja Wilson centered the Aces to stay alive. They combined to shoot 20-of-29 for 49 points. Cambage missed only three shots (12-for-15) and tied a season-high 28 points. She added six rebounds, three assists, two steals and a block.

“I just kept settling inside,” Cambage said in the post-game interview. “They have small forwards guarding me. If they can’t handle it, get in the weight room or get out of the post. So that’s what I’m doing. I’m just doing my thing inside.”

Cambage led the Aces, scoring 19 and 23, respectively, in the first two games, but was helped this time by her backcourt mate Wilson, who added 21 points with a team-high eight rebounds, three assists, two steals and two blocks. Kayla McBride, the Aces’ third all-star, added 18 points and was was 3-of-5 from deep.

The Aces defense shut down the offensive powerhouse from nearly the first tip. The Mystics shot 38.6 percent from the field and 33.3 percent from 3-point range. They were also out-rebounded, 40-28, and had 16 turnovers, more than the first two games combined (12).

Washington’s loss on the road is rare. It is the only team in the W this season with a winning record on the road, having taken 12 from opponents in their own house.

MVP Elena Delle Donne tried her best to single-handedly close out the series for the Mystics. She scored 22 points, more than the combined total of her four fellow starters, to provide the majority of the team’s offense but shot only 2-of-8 from the 3-point line. Delle Donne added six rebounds, two assists, two steals and four blocks.

Emma Meesseman scored only six points as the highest scoring starter outside of Delle Donne.

Kristi Toliver scored 14 points and shot 4-of-7 from the 3-point line. Aerial Powers scored 13 points off the bench, mainly in the second half with the game out of reach.

The Aces, who trailed 24-23 at the first break, succeeded in transition and kept up the pace to ride a 47-37 lead into the half. They went on a 16-4 run in the final 5:20 of the second quarter, dominating every shooting statistic to take a 10-point lead, what was then their largest of the series.

Cambage and Wilson each had 14 points while fellow all-star Kayla McBride scored 12. Kelsey Plum had only one bucket, but facilitated the breakout.

The Mystics had nine turnovers in the first half alone and struggled offensively. Delle Donne went 5-of-9 for 16 points, accounting for nearly a full half of the team’s output. Toliver had six points in 12 minutes off the bench as the only other Mystic with more than four heading into the locker room.

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