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2019 WNBA Semifinals Preview (Game 2): Can the Sparks counter the Sun’s defense to split the series?

Tonight, the No. 2 Connecticut Sun will try once again to defend their home court — literally. On the line is a 2-0 series lead over the No. 3 Los Angeles Sparks in their semifinals series.

In Game 1 on Tuesday, the Sun deployed various defensive looks to successfully frustrate the Sparks’ usually potent offense for the 84-75 victory.

In particular, the Connecticut defense forced L.A. point guard Chelsea Gray into an inefficient performance. Entering the series, the expectation that Gray would rise to the occasion was unquestioned. Yet, on Tuesday, she fell well short of her Point Gawwwd reputation. Too many sloppy, imprecise passes resulted in five turnovers to only four assists. She also struggled to find her stroke, shooting 25% from the field and taking only one three.

If both teams’ pairs of talented bigs — Candace Parker and Nneka Oqwumike for the Sparks and Jonquel Jones and Alyssa Thomas for the Sun — neutralize each others’ impacts, guard play could prove significant one again, demanding that Gray live up to lofty expectations.

On the other side, the Sun should hope for a repeat performance from their backcourt duo of Jasmine Thomas and Courtney Williams. Thomas impressively expanded her offensive execution in Game 1, showing increased aggressiveness as both a driver and a shooter. She fired a season-high nine threes (making three of them), which opened up space for Williams’ scoring slashes.

If Jasmine Thomas can combine her defensive steadiness with the same offensive aggressiveness, she will cause more trouble for her former college teammate, Gray, and position the Sun to head westward with the 2-0 series lead.

Game information

No. 2 Connecticut Sun (1-0) vs. No. 3 Los Angeles Sparks (0-1)

When: Thursday, Sept. 19, at 6:30 p.m. ET

Where: Mohegan Sun Arena, Uncasville, CT

How to watch: ESPN2, TSN3

Keys to the matchup: During the three regular-season matchups between the Sun and Sparks, Alyssa Thomas struggled, averaging only seven points per game. Significant foul trouble in two of the three games explains her sub-par scoring numbers. In Game 1, she successfully managed the ever-present threat of foul trouble. Even as she finished the game with five fouls, she played all 40 minutes, allowing her to almost constantly influence the action on both ends of the floor. Can Thomas again navigate this tightrope, playing with aggressiveness without accumulating too many fouls?