Missing star forward Jonquel Jones, Connecticut Sun fall to Las Vegas Aces 91-83

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A few hours before Sunday’s marquee matchup against the Las Vegas Aces, the Connecticut Sun announced that star forward Jonquel Jones would be out due to health and safety protocols.

Sun head coach and general manager Curt Miller got word that the 2021 WNBA MVP had tested positive for COVID-19 very late Saturday night, after the team had already installed its game plan for the Aces.

Connecticut struggled to keep up with one of the top teams in the league without its leading scorer, losing 91-83 at Mohegan Sun Arena.

The loss moves the Sun (16-9) down to fourth place in the WNBA standings and could prove costly down the line when playoff seeding comes into play. The second-place Aces (18-7) now hold the tiebreaker over the Sun with a 2-1 edge in the season series.

Las Vegas guard Kelsey Plum led all scorers with 22 points and also added four assists. She was one of three Aces players to record at least 20 points; Chelsea Gray had 21 points and nine assists while A’ja Wilson had 20 points, seven rebounds and two blocks.

Brionna Jones, a starter in each of the last two seasons and the leading candidate for this year’s WNBA Sixth Woman of the Year award, entered the starting lineup in Jonquel Jones’ place. She finished the afternoon with 16 points, six rebounds and four assists.

DeWanna Bonner led Connecticut with 19 points, along with seven rebounds. Courtney Williams and Natisha Hiedeman each added 16 points.

Joyner Holmes also saw more minutes on the court with Jonquel Jones out. The 6-foot-3 forward is on her third seven-day contract, and the Sun will need to make a decision whether to sign her for the rest of the season or drop her from the roster, in accordance with the WNBA’s CBA that prohibits players from signing more than three seven-day contracts in one season.

Holmes finished the afternoon with seven points and four rebounds.

The Sun led for nearly the entire first half, but they couldn’t build much separation, never up by more than six points. Connecticut had a 37-35 lead at halftime after holding Las Vegas, which leads the WNBA in 3-point percentage, to 2 of 15 (13.3%) shooting from deep.

The Aces’ shooting woes quickly disappeared as they came out hot out of the break.

Gray hit a 3-pointer at the start of the third quarter to give the Aces the lead. Plum drained a triple on the following possession and then scored another right after that to put Las Vegas up 44-37 for its largest advantage of the afternoon.

The Aces didn’t look back from there, continuing to build their lead into double digits in a way the Sun couldn’t in the first half.

With a little over two minutes left in the third, Alyssa Thomas was met with a double team in the paint. She tried to pass the ball to Hiedeman, but it ended up in the hands of Plum instead. Plum sprinted to the other end of the floor and drove into the paint for an easy layup.

The Sun struggled to take care of the ball throughout the afternoon. They committed 22 turnovers, which led to 33 points for the Aces.

Las Vegas led 64-58 at the end of the third quarter. Plum, a leading candidate for WNBA MVP this season, was a huge part of that effort as she scored 14 points in the period.

The Sun reduced the deficit at the start of the fourth quarter, making it a 64-63 game off a Hiedeman 3-pointer, but couldn’t get closer than that. A few minutes later, the Aces’ lead was back up to nine points after a quick 10-2 run.

The Aces led by as many as 16 points in the fourth. But with 1:15 left, Hiedeman drained a triple to make it a 86-81 game and force a Las Vegas timeout.

The Sun were down 89-83 with 27 seconds left after a layup from Thomas, but couldn’t close out the comeback effort.