WNBA playoffs 2022: Hot offense leads Sun over Sky, 104-80, to force deciding Game 5 in semifinals

It's incredible what happens when professional basketball players make layups. In this case, it leads to a deciding Game 5 with a spot in the WNBA Finals on the line.

The No. 3 seed Connecticut Sun found their shooting touch and avoided elimination with a 104-80 win against the reigning champion and No. 2 seed Chicago Sky at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut, on Tuesday. A winner-take-all Game 5 will be played at Wintrust Arena in Chicago on Thursday.

Connecticut came out strong and built its early double-digit lead through the ways they had struggled in Game 3. The collective offensive shortcoming was called out by mic'd up Sun head coach Curt Miller when he asked his players in a huddle if they had "any suggestions on pro players making a layup?"

Fair to say they weren't facing that question on Tuesday. They broke the record for paint points (66) early in the fourth and had their best shooting night (56.9%) of the season. They were 6-of-15 from 3. The 104 points was one shy of tying their regular season high.

Courtney Williams, whose backcourt performance was lacking early in the series, caught the tip and attacked the basket on the first possession. Jonquel Jones, the reigning MVP who scored six points in 24 minutes, sunk a pull-up 3-pointer. Alyssa Thomas added a banked bucket after not scoring until the third quarter last time out. And the Sun scored more points in the paint in the first half (38) than they had all of Game 4 (36).

The Sun won the first quarter by eight (30-22) and the second quarter by nine to lead, 58-41, at the half. Chicago never found its answer and the Sun kept pressure on with extra hustle buckets by reserves Dijonai Carrington and Odyssey Sims at the end of the second and third quarters, respectively. It was mostly the bench carrying each team through the fourth quarter of a 22-point game.

DeWanna Bonner and Williams each scored 19 points. They were two of the four starters who had at least three assists. Thomas added 17 points. Three players came off the bench to hit double digits and each shot 50% or better.

Kahleah Copper scored 16 points for the Sky, who were a collective 47.6% from the floor but 38.1% (8-of-21) from 3. Emma Meesseman added 14 and led all players with six assists. All five Sky starters reached double digits as did Dana Evans in 10 minutes off the bench.

How the Sun can win Game 5

Make their layups. At its simplest, that's it.

The Sun lost Game 3 by four points, an easily surmountable differential if they had made even three more of their attempts in the paint (18-of-48). The way they won Game 4 might be even more impressive because it wasn't the "messy" style Miller said would be what the Sun needed to advance.

Connecticut jumped out to the early lead, put Chicago on its heels and never let the pressure off. Williams was clutch after struggling with her shot early in the series. This is why she was brought back to Connecticut. The Sun can only dominant the paint with their elite bigs if the guards are a viable shooting threat.

The Sun's total was the most points the Sky had given up to a team all season. The momentum is now solidly in the Sun's favor even given that loss in Game 3.

How the Sky can return to the Finals

All of the pressure is on the Sky, especially since they'll be at home. The starters re-signed with the Sky in free agency to run it back and the roster is likely to look very different in 2023. Winning needs to happen now.

Chicago will need to come out strong, set the tone and rely on its movement on offense. It'll need Candace Parker's Games 1-3 performance back and contributions from every starter in the first quarter to spread out the Sun's defense.

Parker played 26 minutes and finished with 11 points, nine rebounds and four assists. Not the monster line of her earlier games. Courtney Vandersloot had only three assists. And Allie Quigley began to break out of a mini 3-point shooting slump, a bright spot as the series continues.

They're bound to be more focused on the task at hand.

An issue to note for each is that they will travel commercial from Uncasville, Connecticut, to Chicago on Wednesday for Thursday night's tilt. WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert announced at All-Star weekend charters will be used in the WNBA Finals, which begin on Sunday.

It is notoriously difficult to get out of the small WNBA market and the league stepped in to pay for charters for the Sun and Wings in the first round. But even that came with problems for the Sun, who said they had to abide by a strict weight limit and left equipment and personnel behind for a day.

Flight issues and a lack of quality rest could be at play for both. Game 5 is poised to be even chippier than the ones preceding it.

WNBA semifinal schedule

Game 1: Sun 68, Sky 63

Game 2: Sky 85, Sun 77

Game 3: Sky 76, Sun 72

Game 4: Sun 104, Sky 80 (Series tied, 2-2)

Game 5: Thursday, Connecticut at Chicago, 8 p.m ET, ESPN2