Go ahead and get excited about the Connecticut Sun. The best team in the standings is also the hottest; with the exception of that Commissioner’s Cup championship game that didn’t count in the regular season standings, they have not lost a single game in the second half of the WNBA season. The one-seed now theirs, the Sun roll into the playoffs more heavily favored than they did two years ago, when they reached the WNBA Finals “using perceived disrespect as fuel.”
Now, you have no choice but to respect them. Where the 2019 team won games thanks to an efficient and versatile offense, the 2021 Sun allow just 92.3 points per 100 possessions, making it one of the better defensive teams in recent league history and the best defense in the WNBA right now by a fair margin; the second-best team, the Aces, allow 96. The Sun have made the best of a roster that Aces head coach Bill Laimbeer called, after losing to them, “big and long and strong.” The WNBA’s top five players in defensive win shares all play for the Sun: In the frontcourt, there’s spindly DeWanna Bonner and the 6-foot-11 wingspan of Jonquel Jones, who might be the best player in the WNBA postseason if Breanna Stewart is unable to return from her foot injury. The two use their length to bother even the league’s elite centers, but they’re also mobile enough to rotate and recover. Even the Sun players with a size disadvantage against bigs—5-foot-8 Briann January and 5-foot-9 Jasmine Thomas—are pesky enough to pressure them in addition to guarding the perimeter.
And by a few reports, the Sun have now solved what appeared to be their One Big Obstacle to getting here before the season started: 6-foot-2 forward Alyssa Thomas, the “engine” of the Sun’s last two deep playoff runs, tore her Achilles playing overseas eight months ago and was slated to miss the entire WNBA season. But Thomas is listed as “probable” on the Sun’s injury report for their game against the Liberty tonight. “It’s as if she was never gone,” said her teammate Beatrice Mompremier after Thomas was spotted at an open practice on Tuesday. Knowing Thomas’s startling resolve—she famously plays through two labrum tears—it wouldn’t be surprising if she had simply willed the injury timeline to shrink.
Sheer will and power define her basketball game, too. Thomas is electric in transition, and very smart, too, capable of reading the floor even as she barrels down it. Her low post spin move may have a 100 percent success rate. Last year, the Sun’s roster turnover and injuries forced the team to put greater weight on team defense, where she also shined. “We asked everything of her, switch on to great guards, guard great post players,” said Miller last year, campaigning for Thomas to win Defensive Player of the Year. “If there’s a better defender in the league than Alyssa Thomas, I don’t see it.”
The situation here should inspire fear in fans of other contenders. The neutral fan can only laugh: The best team in the WNBA, a defensive powerhouse anyway, is getting the world’s best defender back. It’s like finding a little money in your coat pocket.