Let’s go in chronological order as September got started, shall we?
Connecticut Sun 70, New York Liberty 65 — When you’re in seventh place in the standings late in the season and you’re playing the last place team in the league, then you need to get the win. That’s what Connecticut did here.
However, it was about as much as an adventure to get there as the final score indicates. An 18-8 lead at the end of the first quarter did not do the Sun the kind of favors that you would like it to do against the worst team in the league. A triple from Marquette’s very own Natisha Hiedeman early in the second quarter nudged the lead to 11 for a minute, but then the Liberty got things rolling. A 13-2 New York run tied the game at 23 and a bucket from Kylee Shook extended that run and gave the Liberty the lead. They wouldn’t hold it all the way til halftime, but they would lead 32-29 at the break.
The Sun figured a lot of things out in the fourth quarter, scoring the first eight points of the period to take a 37-32 lead. Five of those points came from DeWanna Bonner, who would finish with a game high 27 points to go with 12 rebounds. A layup from Kaila Charles with 3:07 left in the quarter moved Connecticut’s lead back to eight at 46-38, but the Liberty countered and at the end of the third, it was just a four point game, 52-48, in the Sun’s favor.
The fourth quarter was maintenance work by Connecticut as they kept the Liberty at arm’s length. It wasn’t over until late, as Kiah Stokes connected on a putback with 1:15 left to pull New York within four. A Charles turnover on Connecticut’s next possession gave the Liberty a chance to cut the lead in half, but it turned into two free throws by Jazmine Jones and she missed them both. The Sun couldn’t add to the lead, but a charge by Nurse left New York with an empty possession and only 32 seconds to go. Bonner hit a jumper, and that was that.
Mostly we’ve been saying along the way here that Hiedeman contributed this way or that way. Here, I think we can say that she was a big part of this game, as she finished the night as Connecticut’s third leading scorer behind Bonner and Alyssa Thomas, who had 15. Hiedeman hit three of her five attempts in the game, including half of her four long range attempts to end up with 10 points in the game in just 15 minutes played. She also added two rebounds and two assists,
Miami Heat 116, Milwaukee Bucks 114 — Oh man, this game. In retrospect, I probably should have written up a recap of this one immediately after it happened just because of how completely bonkos the ending was.
It probably never should have gotten there, if we’re being honest. Miami led by as many as 13 in the second quarter and they had a six point lead at the half. Milwaukee was able to tie the game in the third, but the Heat still led by four at the start of the fourth. The Bucks briefly took a lead early in the fourth when Big East legend Kyle Korver rained in his only made shot of the game. Goran Dragic immediately answered with a three of his own on the other end to put the Heat back out in front and kick off a 13-2 Miami run that left them leading 103-93 with 7:50 to go after a three from Jae Crowder.
This game should not have been close at the end.
In a way, it wasn’t. Bam Adebayo scored with 54 seconds left to make it a six point game, 113-107, and then Giannis Antetokounmpo missed two free throws on the other end. 44 seconds left, six point game. How was this tied 44 seconds later? I have no idea.
Miami refused to score, Giannis dunked, Jimmy Butler threw a horrible pass out of a trap at the Milwaukee rim, Brook Lopez tossed it in. Two point game, 113-111, but there was only 8.5 seconds left. Butler split a pair of free throws after a Milwaukee foul. Dragic was whistled for maybe the weakest foul I have ever seen on a Khris Middleton triple (it’s in the highlight package below, but only in live action, no replay), and he sank all three to tie the game with 4.3 seconds to go.
Miami inbounds, Butler shoots, Giannis is whistled for a foul on the shot after the clock expired. So he gets to shoot two free throws with no time remaining, and he hit both to win the game by himself at the line.
An incredibly dumb finish to a game that looked very much over with less than a minute to go. Miami leads the series against the top team in the East, two games to none.
After a 40-piece in Game 1, Butler was quiet here with just 13 points on three-of-eight shooting, and remember: He scored Miami’s last three points of the game to get to 13. In fact, his miss on the free throws with eight seconds left was his only free throw miss of the game, and if he hits it, Middleton’s three attempt is meaningless. Weird how that all works. Crowder ended up outscoring Butler with 16 points, and he added six rebounds and two assists, as well. It was a team effort from the Heat, as seven guys scored at least 11 points.
Over on the Milwaukee side, Wesley Matthews played more than usual, getting 30 minutes of run here. He only scored four points on 2-for-8 shooting, but added four rebounds, too.
Los Angeles Clippers 120, Denver Nuggets 97 — A look at the NBA’s Lead Tracker for this game tells a fantastic story of what happened here. In a contest between the #2 and #3 teams in the Western Conference this season, we got an incredibly competitive first quarter as you would expect. 11 lead changes! Who doesn’t like that!
Things were tied at 31 after 12 minutes, and that’s about when the Clippers remembered that they played their last game on Sunday while the Nuggets had to win Game 6 against Utah on Sunday to force Game 7 on Tuesday in order to rally from down 3-1 to get to this game.
After that back-and-forth first quarter, Denver would never lead again. They would tie the game back up at 36 with 9:03 left in the second, sure, but that was it. The Clippers closed the quarter on a 33-15 run to lead by 18 at the half and the lead would balloon as large as 29 for a moment in the third quarter as LA coasted in for an easy Game 1 win. The big difference might have been Los Angeles holding the Nuggets to just 25% shooting from behind the three-point arc, especially when you notice that the Clips shot 42% themselves.
Kawhi Leonard was the top performer for Marquette legend and LA head coach Doc Rivers, getting 29 points, two rebounds, three assists, and two steals to lead the way to victory. Four more Clippers hit double digits in scoring, and all five LA starters recorded at least two assists, too.
Las Vegas Aces 93, Connecticut Sun 78 — So, Las Vegas is pretty good, huh?
This one fell apart in the third quarter for Connecticut. It was only a seven point game at the half, and that was only because a late surge from the Aces. Theresa Plaisance had hit a jumper for the Sun with 1:43 left that made it a four point game, 38-34, and DeWanna Bonner scored the last bucket of the half to keep Connecticut within seven at the break. Not too bad against the second best team in the league, maybe?
Things inched away from Connecticut in the third, though, and a late push by Las Vegas shoved the lead out to 16 when Dearica Hamby scored with 1:54 to go. All due credit to the Sun for cutting it to just 10 when the quarter ended, but a triple from Hamby with 8:10 to go got the deficit back to 15, and that was pretty much that.
It looks like that wasn’t a surprising result, either. Head coach Curt Miller had Bonner and Alyssa Thomas out of the game for the entire fourth quarter, because let’s face it: Connecticut has bigger games down the stretch in front of them.
Bonner led Connecticut with 22 points in this game, but we have to give a nod to Beatrice Mompremier, too. She came off the bench and wrecked Las Vegas for a game high 16 rebounds, which is a Sun record for a reserve in a game. Of course, that didn’t stop three different Aces — Hamby, Jackie Young, and A’ja Wilson — from scoring at least 20 points.
The lack of starters down the stretch meant nearly 19 minutes of action for Natisha Hiedeman in this game. She went just 1-for-5 from the floor, but a 4-for-5 performance from the charity stripe gave her six points in the game. Hiedeman also added three rebounds, two assists, and a steal to the proceedings.
Up Next: Milwaukee is the first team in our proceedings to get back to it as they attempt to avoid an ongoing disaster in Game 3 against Miami on Friday night. It’s a 5:30pm Central start on TNT. The Clippers tip off Game 2 against Denver on Saturday night at 8pm CT, and TNT will have the broadcast there, too.
Connecticut’s next game is against Indiana, and that’s a pretty big one. The Sun are currently the #7 team in the standings and the top eight make the playoffs. There are just four games remaining in the season counting Saturday’s encounter with the Fever, and Indiana comes in three games behind Connecticut in the standings. My math might be off, but it certainly sounds like if the Sun win the game, then they’ll be four games up on #9 with three games to play. That seems like that would clinch a playoff spot for Hiedeman et. al, no? It’s a 3pm Central start there, and the WNBA schedule page says it’s going to be on Facebook and Fox Sports Indiana. I presume that means the Sun’s Facebook page? Or the WNBA’s? It’s not clear.