With less than five minutes into the third quarter, Alyssa Thomas drove in from the top of the arc, used a spin move to take a quick step at her defender and sank a layup while falling to the ground.
Thomas finished with 15 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists in third-ranked Sun’s 93-68 win over sixth-ranked Dallas Wings in Game 1 of a first-round WNBA playoff series Thursday night at Mohegan Sun Arena. She was on track to record her third triple-double of the season, but with the game already well out of reach, she was on the bench for the final five minutes.
“I’ve never seen anyone so consistent with their effort and passion to play,” Sun head coach and general manager Curt Miller said of Thomas. “She’s an elite basketball player. She sees things before they happen, she really understands the game. So that combination of effort and basketball IQ makes them very special. Then there is the versatility.
“… There is nobody in this league [who] plays harder. There is nobody, nobody, zero, there is nobody in this league who is more defensively versatile, who can defend more positions than them.”
Game 2 of the best-of-three series will take place at the Mohegan Sun Arena on Sunday afternoon. If the Sun wins, they advance to the semifinals, facing either Chicago Sky or New York Liberty.
When the 2021 WNBA playoffs began, Thomas had just suffered an Achilles tendon. She sustained the injury on January 11, 2021 while abroad in the Czech Republic and made it back to WNBA action just nine months later on September 15, 2021. She played two regular-season games before the start of the postseason and then averaged 11.8 points, 6.0 rebounds and 3.8 assists in the semifinals against Sky, which Sun lost 3-1.
Those were impressive performances, especially considering the injury, but it wasn’t exactly Playoff AT.
Thomas was absolutely dominant in the 2020 postseason, when she almost wanted the Seventh Sun – minus Jonquel Jones, who opted out – through to the finals in the “Wubble.” The 6-foot-2 forward, who has played much of her career with a partially torn labrum in both shoulders, dislocated her right shoulder early in Game 2 of this season’s semifinals against the Las Vegas Aces.
Players from both sides could hear her screaming in the dressing room as her shoulder was put back into her socket by the coaches. Still, she somehow came back for Game 3, walking away with 23 points, 12 rebounds, four assists and three steals in 39 minutes to lead the Sun to a 77-68 win.
Thomas averaged 18.1 points, 8.1 rebounds, 4 assists and 1.7 steals per game this postseason. The year before, she had 16 points, 9.3 rebounds, 6.6 assists and 2.4 steals per contest as the Sun made it to the Finals, losing to the Washington Mystics in a narrow five-game streak.
Thomas dominated the Sun throughout the 2022 regular season, averaging 13.4 points, 8.2 rebounds, 6.1 assists and 1.7 steals per game while making a strong case for WNBA Defensive Player of the Year. She recorded the first two triple-doubles of her career over the span of 12 days, leading many to scratch their heads and wonder how she hadn’t done this feat before, given her versatility and versatility on so many different occasions had done .
Anyone who has coached Thomas, including Sun head coach and general manager Curt Miller, will be quick to tell you that she is the most competitive and intense player they have ever worked with. That goes to a whole different level in the postseason, with the prospect of elimination and a championship at stake. Now she’s back to full health and determined to lead Connecticut to its first WNBA title.
“I love playoff time” Thomas wrote in an article in the Player’s Tribune earlier this week. “I’m trying to take it to another level. I know I have another gear in me.”