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What the Sun lacked in their run to the 2022 WNBA Finals – effective, consistent three-point shooting – was fully demonstrated in their first game of the 2023 playoffs. They made a season-high 16 three-pointers , all assisted. They made extra passes to find open teammates, got loose on screens and ran forward in transition.

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“We lit a fire at first,” Minnesota Lynx forward Napheesa Collier said after the game about her team’s defense. “(The Sun) normally averages seven 3-pointers and they came in and made nine in the first half. “Once he gets going, he gives the team confidence.”

The Sun made a strong statement about their postseason potential, playing what head coach Stephanie White thought were their most complete 40 minutes all season behind excellent perimeter shooting, consistent ball movement and capitalizing on Minnesota mistakes.

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Minnesota had a 24-22 lead on the Sun less than three minutes into the second quarter. The Sun responded with a 21-3 run, scoring three Minnesota turnovers in less than a minute, and finished the half with a 46-32 lead. After a back-and-forth third quarter, the Sun outscored the Lynx 21-8 in the fourth quarter. The Sun finished the game with 28 assists and 33 field goals made.

“That’s how it’s going to have to be for us to continue to be successful,” White said after the win. “I loved the way we shared the basketball offensively, but I’m really incredibly proud of our defensive effort and execution.”

Connecticut Sun center Olivia Nelson-Ododa and guard Rebecca Allen surround Minnesota Lynx guard Aerial Powers with their hands up.  Powers turns to try to get out of the trap.
Connecticut Sun center Olivia Nelson-Ododa (10) and guard Rebecca Allen (9) defend Minnesota Lynx guard Aerial Powers (3) during a WNBA playoff game at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut, on September 13, 2023. (Photo credit: Chris Poss | The next)

This was the vision from the beginning of the offseason. In last year’s playoffs, the Sun ranked last in three-pointers made and had the lowest three-point shooting rate of the eight playoff teams.

When White became head coach last November, she talked about adding shooters who could thrive in a fluid, four- or five-out offensive system to restructure the core of the frontcourt. New general manager Darius Taylor delivered, adding Hayes, Rebecca Allen and Ty Harris.

In their first playoff game with the Sun on Wednesday, those three guards shot a combined 12 of 15 from 3-point range.

“The way we were moving the ball and finding the open shot and executing the shot, I think that’s a big thing that we’ve been telling the open shooter: ‘Let it fly,'” Allen told reporters after the game. “So we really try to make the most of their rotations and find that open player.”

Harris has shown she can be a reliable 3-point shooter for the Sun, hitting a career-high 46.4% on 84 attempts this year. That leads the league for players with at least 80 attempts. It’s a dramatic increase from her previous three seasons playing for the Dallas Wings, when she never shot above 34% from three. She went a perfect 3-for-3 from long range in Game 1.

“Honestly, when I tell you we shoot those shots every day, 100 times, I mean, it’s just consistency, hard work and just letting it pay off,” Harris said. “They tell me all the time to let it fly. When he goes up, he goes down. So when I get the ball, I just throw it and hopefully it goes in.”

Connecticut Sun guard Tyasha Harris hits a right-handed jump shot over Minnesota Lynx forward Nikolina Milic, who closes with her right hand high.
Connecticut Sun guard Tyasha Harris (52) shoots over Minnesota Lynx forward Nikolina Milic (31) during a WNBA playoff game at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut, on September 13, 2023. (Photo credit: Chris Poss | The next)

Throughout the season, that trio of guards showed surges of potential, but it took time to develop chemistry with new teammates and learn the coaching staff’s system. The team then had to readjust when forward Brionna Jones suffered a season-ending injury in June.

The Sun have been good from 3-point range this season from an efficiency perspective, shooting 36% in the regular season. But in the team’s 13 losses, the Sun averaged just 33.4% from three.

After a close road win over the Washington Mystics on Aug. 22, White said he wanted to see the team’s three-point shooting percentage increase or the number of attempts decrease.

“If we’re not shooting the ball well from three, we want to go ahead and make additional drives, kicks, sprays and passes for three, but we don’t necessarily need to shoot behind ball screens. “White said. “I wish our 3-point selection was better.”

The Sun delivered on that in Game 1. The offense flowed and the ball moved from side to side like White had envisioned all season. The Sun were willing to make an extra pass on the perimeter, but didn’t hesitate to shoot when they had the chance.

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And with everything on the line in the playoffs, the Sun showed they have more ways to plot open 3-pointers, like an elevator screen that set up Allen for a 3-pointer in the third quarter.

“I felt like we made the right plays. We made the correct readings. We don’t try to do it ourselves. We don’t penetrate too much. We didn’t analyze too much,” White said.

Connecticut Sun guard Rebecca Allen shoots a right-handed jump shot.
Connecticut Sun guard Rebecca Allen (9) shoots during a WNBA playoff game against the Minnesota Lynx at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut, on September 13, 2023. (Photo Credit: Chris Poss | The next)

Minnesota Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve said after the game that she thought her team allowed too many open looks to Connecticut’s shooters.

“There were a couple of tough situations we had to live with,” Reeve said. “There were some that we were…six feet away from them and dared them to shoot, good shooters, and we just can’t do that.”

Lynx guard Kayla McBride led her team with 14 points in the first half and made as many field goals as her teammates combined. But the Sun limited her to 1 of 7 shots in the second half.

Collier started the first half shooting 1 of 5 from the floor and finished the game with 14 points and six rebounds. While she had a solid game overall, she did all her work in the paint and primarily in the second half, when the Sun frustrated her early with aggressive doubles and triples.

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In Game 2 at Mohegan Sun Arena on Sunday, Connecticut will have to continue to be aggressive on defense and contain Collier at all three levels.

“Our activity (and) our sense of urgency was there,” White said. “It’s always about how can we continue to be better? How can we continue to raise the standard of excellence? And I thought our team as a whole did a really good job of staying locked in.”

Proving that the team can maintain momentum throughout a series and maintain the same defensive pressure while continuing to make outside shots will be the Sun’s next playoff tests.

“We certainly understand that the job is not done, but it’s a good start,” White said.

#threepointers #falling #Connecticut #Sun #shows #dangerous #playoffs

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