After getting a series sweep against the Mystics in the first round of the WNBA playoffs, Liberty head coach Sandy Brondello was awarded with the task of having to prepare for one of the game’s best players: Alyssa Thomas.
Thomas, who is in contention for the MVP award after a historic season, is coming off a three-game series victory against the Minnesota Lynx where she averaged 23 points, six rebounds and nine assists, including two double-doubles in those first-round wins.
Brondello acknowledged Thomas’ greatness, but mentioned ways the MVP candidate can be slowed down during the second-round series between the Sun and Liberty (Game 1, Sunday, 1 p.m.).
“I think there’s way you can defend her well,” Brondello said about Thomas, who averaged 11 points, seven rebounds and six assists against the Liberty in the regular season.
“She only scores in the [restricted area] but when she gets in there, not bringing too many [other] players,” Brondello said about what the team should do to try and limit Thomas’ assist opportunities. “Because that’s when she finds open players.”
She mentioned Thomas’ success in New York’s June 27 victory, where the Sun star had a triple double. But the team has been able to limit Thomas’ success and keep her under her season averages (16 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists) in the four matchups.
Even though Brondello’s team hasn’t been torched by Thomas in all of the regular-season matchups, the coach is still putting an emphasis on the MVP candidate going into the series.
“In our games where she scored a lot, we just allowed her to get to the [restricted area]. We’ve got to do a better job of keeping her out of the [restricted area]. Easier said than done, but we’ll do our best in how we want to execute our schemes.”
Thomas is aided by guards who have been playing key roles all season and during the first round against the Lynx. Two-time champion DeWanna Bonner was huge in her team’s decisive Game 3 in Minnesota. She closed out the series by recording 25 points, 10 boards and six assists. In the Game 1 victory, Bonner grabbed 15 rebounds while adding 17 points in the 90-60 blowout. For the series, she averaged 22 points, 10 rebounds and five assists.
Sun guard Tyasha Harris was a sharpshooter in the first round, knocking down seven of 11 attempts from deep in the series. Her scoring off the bench has been a welcome sign for Coach of the Year recipient Stephanie White while also getting production from the team’s sixth woman, DiJonai Carrington.
“Ty Harris is shooting unbelievably from the field right now,” Liberty center Jonquel Jones said. “DB is playing at a really high level.”
However, the Liberty have a clear advantage down low with Sun star center Brionna Jones sidelined with a ruptured Achilles. Jones went down with the injury in June and her absence is a key reason for the Sun staying winless against the Liberty, who are now enjoying the success of former Connecticut center Jonquel Jones.
In the three games after Brionna Jones’ injury, Jonquel Jones averaged 15 points and 11 rebounds, including her elite 21-point, 14-rebound performance against the Sun on Aug. 24.
In the one game Brionna Jones played against the Liberty (May 27), Jonquel Jones scored only seven points and grabbed three boards. Jonquel Jones’ recent dominant play coincides with her getting more comfortable with the team and foot that was injured last fall. But Brionna Jones’ absence allows the Liberty star to feast over smaller defenders in the paint.
“It’s key to establish JJ and her post presence because we have the size advantage,” Liberty star Breanna Stewart said.
ON THE ROAD
The Liberty’s first-round sweep against Washington allowed the team to get four days of rest. Most importantly, the Liberty didn’t have to play a game on the road in the short three-game series.
In the second-round series against the Sun, the Liberty will be on the road for Game 3 and Game 4 (if necessary).
Game 3 will be Jonquel Jones’ first road playoff game at Mohegan Sun Arena, the same place she called home for the first six seasons of her career.
“Just really energetic. Really involved,” Jones said when describing what the environment will be like there during the series. The Liberty center added that the Sun have some of the best fans in the league and that the road games will be in a “hostile environment.”
“Thank God we have Barclays Center and we have our fans up first to be able to show up for us before we have to go there.”
Stewart added in a positive about the future road trip to Connecticut.
“It’s nice to not have to go on an airplane,” she said with a smile. “[We’ll] just drive right up there. But, we’ll worry about Game 3 after Game 2.
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