The semifinals of the 2021 playoffs continued on Thursday night, but unfortunately this doubleheader wasn't as exciting as the one we saw earlier in the week. The Connecticut Sun pulled away in the fourth quarter for a 79-68 win over the Chicago Sky to even their series at 1-1. Later on, the Phoenix Mercury put together a dominant performance to beat the Las Vegas Aces 117-91 and tie their series at 1-1 as well.
Alyssa Thomas, playing just nine months after tearing her Achilles tendon, came off the bench to lead the way for the Sun with 15 points, 11 rebounds and six assists for the Sun. Meanwhile, the backcourt duo of Jasmine Thomas and Briann January bounced back from disappointing performances in Game 1 to combine for 24 points, four rebounds and four assists.
Out in Vegas, the Mercury were led by their big three of Diana Taurasi, Brittney Griner and Skylar Diggins-Smith. Taurasi set a new playoff career-high with 37 points, while Griner put up 25 points, seven rebounds and five assists. Diggins-Smith added 17 points and five assists as the Mercury shot 60.6 percent from the field as a team.
Here are some key takeaways from Game 2:
An MVP no-show
In Game 1 of this series, Jonquel Jones showed exactly why she was named MVP this season, as she put in an impressive performance on both sides of the ball. On Thursday night, however, it was the complete opposite. It wasn't so much that she was bad as much as she was largely irrelevant.
After the Sun went down 11-0 less than three minutes into the game, coach Curt Miller tried to send a message by taking multiple starters out of the game, including Jones. She barely played the rest of the half, registering just nine minutes and zero points at the break. It was so unlike her that sideline reporter Holly Rowe checked with the team to see if something was wrong.
The Sun said Jones was fine, but her play was not. In fact, as the Sun put the game away in the fourth quarter, Jones was on the bench. She finished with four points, seven rebounds and four assists in only 24 minutes -- tied for the fewest she's played all season. The Sun managed to win this game despite her no-show, but that's not a formula they can rely on. Jones will have to be better as the series goes along.
AT changes the game
A little over nine months ago, Alyssa Thomas tore her Achilles tendon while playing overseas in the Czech Republic. Almost everyone understandably assumed she was out for the season, but a few weeks ago she made a stunning return. On Thursday night, she showed just what the Sun have been missing all season long.
With Jonquel Jones struggling, Thomas came off the bench and took the game over. She went for 15 points, 11 rebounds, six assists and two steals, and when she was on the floor the Sun were an astonishing plus-30. Single-game plus-minus can be deceiving sometimes, but not here. In the second half, in particular, Thomas dictated play with her toughness and energy and was perhaps the main reason they won the game and tied the series.
"It's amazing," Thomas said during her on-court postgame interview. "You appreciate things like this. To go through something like that -- anybody that's been through that injury knows how tough it is. I just gotta appreciate each and every game."
Taurasi sets a playoff career high
Diana Taurasi has spent the past month or so battling an ankle injury and didn't even suit up for the Mercury's first-round win over the New York Liberty. Though she finally returned in the second round, she was clearly hobbled in her first few games back. That all changed on Thursday night.
Taurasi said pregame that her ankle was feeling better, and it showed. She was on fire all night long, finishing with 37 points and six rebounds on a highly efficient 10 of 13 from the field and 8 of 11 from 3-point land. In the process she set a new playoff career-high, which is sort of incredible when you think about all that she's accomplished over the years. Her eight 3s were also the second-most in a playoff game in WNBA history.
"I only shot 11 [3-pointers]?" Taurasi joked postgame. "I just got some looks. Like I said, sometimes you just gotta get back to the basics. I went over some video yesterday with our video coordinators. It's just the basics, and sometimes propel you to shoot it well."
Getting back to basics, feeling healthy, just pure ability -- whatever it was that led to Taurasi's hot night, the Mercury will hope she can carry it over into Game 3 on Sunday. Their win in this game gives them the opportunity to close out this series at home, but they'll need Taurasi at her best to get it done.
Griner goes to work
While Diana Taurasi is going to steal the headlines, this win was as much about Brittney Griner's dominance in the paint as it was Taurasi's shooting. Griner has been playing at a super high level for a few months now, and Game 2 might have been her best performance yet.
Desperate to avoid going down 2-0 in this short best-of-five series, Griner said pregame that she was treating this like a single-elimination contest. She backed up that talk with a monster first quarter -- 16 points, five rebounds and three assists -- to help the Mercury build an early 17-point lead they never relinquished. Griner finished the night with 25 points, seven rebounds, five assists and two blocks.
Despite the size and frontcourt depth to theoretically make things difficult on Griner, the Aces just had no answer. When they single-covered her in the post it was too easy; when they forced her away from the basket she calmly knocked down mid-range jumpers; when they sent multiple defenders she found the open teammate. This game was a masterclass from Griner on how to control the action from the post.