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Land of the Rising Sun (Connecticut-New York Recap, 06.23.17)

David L. Pokress/Newsday

NEW YORK — Is it any surprise that, at the start of the summer, the hottest team in the WNBA at this point in the season in the Sun?

All five starters scored in double figures, with the game’s leading scorer, guard Jasmine Thomas, knocking home the decisive three-pointer late in the fourth quarter as the Connecticut Sun posted its fifth consecutive victory, a 94-89 win over the New York Liberty at Madison Square Garden. This win comes off the heels of another impressive road victory, dealing the previously undefeated Minnesota Lynx its first loss of the season last Sunday in St. Paul.

The teams met just nine days earlier at Mohegan Sun Arena, with the Sun leading by as many as 25 points before pulling off a 96-76 wire-to-wire win. Tonight, the Sun opened up an eight-point lead at the end of the first quarter, with the lead ballooning to 21 by the third quarter as their relentlessness on the offensive boards was matched by deadly accurate three-point shooting.

“Our team plays very well together,” said Sun center Jonquel Jones, the WNBA’s leading rebounder who finished the game with 21 points, including hitting three of her five three-point attempts. “We genuinely care about each other, so when we get out on the court, we play really well…Our maturity has definitely grown throughout the season.”

Though the Sun’s victory was powered by scoring 28 points off of 16 Liberty turnovers and scoring 21 second-chance points, New York was still able to fight through those mistakes to come agonizingly close to pulling off one of the greatest comebacks in WNBA history, as New York engineered a 37-16 between the third and fourth quarters. Shavonte Zellous’s layup with 1:06 remaining tied the score at 86, but Connecticut was able to keep its calm despite the Madison Square Garden crowd being at a fever pitch. The Sun scored on its next two possessions to regain control, including Thomas’s three-pointer from the right wing with 26 seconds remaining to put Connecticut up 91-86. Thomas led the Sun with 23 points, including hitting four of Connecticut’s 12 three-pointers (on 24 attempts) in the contest.

“Give Connecticut credit, they played a strong game all game long,” said Liberty head coach Bill Laimbeer, whose team is 5-2 in the month of June, with both losses coming to the Sun. “In Connecticut, we didn’t show. Here, we played a lot harder. But the same problems that we’ve experienced in the past is that we have to value the basketball more. Giving up 28 points off of turnovers and giving up 21 points on offensive rebounds was our undoing.”

After scoring only two first-half points on 1-of-6 shooting, Liberty leading scorer Tina Charles scored 18 second-half points and finished with 20 points, 11 rebounds and six assists.

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