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September 18, 2022

Curt Miller

Connecticut Sun

Game 4: Postgame

Las Vegas Aces 78, Connecticut Sun 71

CURT MILLER: You know, first thing I want to say is congratulations to Las Vegas, and certainly Becky. We have a long, long relationship, and I know we had a lot of fun competing against each other in these Finals.

Incredibly proud of our team and our resilience and our fight. It was a grind out there, both teams playing so hard, both teams playing so well in stretches defensively, and just incredibly proud of our effort. And we put ourselves in position to win and it became a chess match down the stretch with our big lineup versus their small lineup and they finished on an 8-0 run to end the game.

It was a great game and great for our league.

Q. Now the fourth consecutive season you guys have lost in the Finals or semi-finals, what is that disappointment of being able to get so close but not being able to capture that first championship?

CURT MILLER: Our team, we talk about it, that it's going to hurt when you care as much as we do, and they put their hearts and soul into seasons. When you come up short, it really hurts. That means that there was something that mattered and something special amongst that group of players when it hurts that much.

Q. The way things ended, Alyssa Thomas, second consecutive triple-double in elimination games. What has she meant to the team this season and what kind of emotion did you see from her after the loss?

CURT MILLER: Yeah, it's raw right now. It's hard and they know how much they put into it.

Again, Alyssa was terrific and a warrior through this whole series and at times tried to put us on her back.

Q. In terms of the three-big lineup down the stretch, how much of that came down to something tactical and how much of it came down to these five having been such an integral part of what you guys have done for this period of time?

CURT MILLER: Both. Obviously strategic, put your three All-Stars on the floor together. You know, try -- they are also very good defensively, those three bigs, and try to just overwhelm them at times with our size.

And then you know, some of it was certainly the scheme, and then some of it certainly is that's our core group. Those are who you run with. Those are who have put us in position year after year after year. We knew it was going to be a chess match. We anticipated going into tonight that they would play a small lineup a lot. We talked about staying traditional against it. Trying to go big against it or us go small. Riquana got hot and made some big shots.

Q. This was the team you put together, and we know by definition this team is going to have to change. What has this change meant to you and to the WNBA over this period of sustained success?

CURT MILLER: You know, when we got here there was three consecutive years of no playoffs. We were charged with trying to rebuild something and we have had a remarkable sustained run. We've equaled the most playoff wins since 2016 of anyone in the league. We are one game behind the most regular season wins. So the sustained success is really special.

But in pro sports, you want banners and we are going to keep grinding and grinding until we can try to hang a banner.

Q. You've talked a lot about the chess match and the going back and forth. The result notwithstanding, have you enjoyed coaching this level and going back and forth with Becky like that?

CURT MILLER: The last two series were special as a coach. The meetings with your own coaching staff, the film sessions with your team, the chess match that went into the Chicago series, the chess match that went into the Vegas series, is what you love most about coaching. These last couple weeks have just been really special as a coach.

You get to coach the best players and serve the best players in the world, and then all the time you spend behind the scenes with your staff and your team in the film room, strategically trying to counter these other great teams. Nothing is better than that in sports.

Q. In the first two games of the series, we saw the Aces sprinkle in guard, guard ball screens and feel like they almost exclusively ran that in the fourth quarter of this one. What made that particular setup so difficult to defend to close out this game?

CURT MILLER: The guard to guard screens as they ghosted out of a lot tried to put us in rotation: Were we going to get caught in a switch? Were we going to get caught in a trap? They were searching. They were trying to get some switches to the matchup advantage they were looking for. So that all a chess match. Then as we went big, they started to put different bigs in that action also.

Ultimately a lot of that pro mentality that leaps into the league from the NBA, we become a copycat league and that was the action they chose to run late.

Q. Obviously didn't end how you wanted it to but looking at this year as a whole, we were talking about this yesterday about how much this group has meant to you. When you zoom out and look back on what this is in four or five years when you think about the 2022 team, what is going to stick out to you about this year?

CURT MILLER: Again, down the line, we are going to be so proud that we were in the Finals, you know, competing with a tremendous offensive team, and the MVP and the leading vote getter of MVP of the guards. You know, and the list goes on. Becky was Coach of the Year.

We'll look back somewhere down the line and be proud, once again, that we were in the Finals competing at the highest level for a championship. It hurts. It stings right now. But again, that was an incredible atmosphere and I'm so proud of our fan base and so proud of our front office and our franchise. We'll get there pretty quickly, but certainly it will take some time for everybody but we'll look back with a lot of pride.

Q. Fifth elimination in the postseason tonight. What have you seen in the locker room in how they have responded to these situations?

CURT MILLER: It's their mental toughness. Again, this group thrives when people tell them they can't do something, and you know, they left it all out there. We missed some shots. We missed some reads. They made some great shots but their mental toughness, they never wavered that they couldn't do this and they never listened to all the people that said they couldn't.

Q. And Natisha had to play a bigger role after Jaz went down. What did you conversation look like with Natisha after that injury and she kind of went into the starting lineup, and how have you kind of seen her evolve this year and grow?

CURT MILLER: I thought she had a tremendous year. Still in my mind, she deserved consideration for Most Improved, especially because of the position she was thrust into.

But she really handled it. Not an easy situation to pivot with your leader on and off the floor now out for the year. She had a remarkable year. She proved that she can be a starting point guard in this league twofold. You know, I just -- her future is only going to be brighter.

Q. Courtney came up for you guys tonight. What has been her impact since adding her in the off-season?

CURT MILLER: She's a shot maker. We were very defensive oriented in the guard the last couple years and we felt like we needed a spark offensively, someone that could go make bit plays in big moments. She's a big-time player in big moments.

The best thing that's not seen out there on the basketball court is she has a contagious positive energy. She is a pleasure to coach. She has at times a different reputation out there publicly. She's one of the most positive best teammates I've ever coached at this level. Every day she comes with a joy and brings a spirit of enjoying the game of basketball. It's not a job to her. Like she just has fun playing, and it's contagious to be around. You can't help but laugh and smile when Courtney walks into practice every single day.

You wish as a coach that you could coach ten Courtney Williams because she brings so much fun to the day-to-day grind that this season can be.

Q. You talked about the chess match. How much does A'ja stress the defense and affect your offense even when maybe she doesn't have the best shooting night like tonight?

CURT MILLER: Yeah, their team is full of people that stretch your defense. They have tremendous offensive players that stretch the floor. There's just scheming, to our word, congestion all the time and trying to flow. A'ja gets in space, she's hard to contain, and so you have to shrink that space. And so you're constantly, constantly being pressured by their offensive weapons, and A'ja is one of them.

Q. So it seemed like in the fourth quarter, it was your big lineup against Becky's small lineup and essentially a battle of contrasts. What was it specifically about Becky's small ball lineup that kept you guys in a compromising rotation leading to open baskets?

CURT MILLER: Yeah, it was the chess match and obviously we missed the rotation. We gambled on a rotation, and ultimately Riquana was the recipient of some open shots, and she made big shots in big moments.

Again, Riquana has been a long time great offensive player in this league, and tonight when they needed it in their small lineup, she made big shots against us.

Q. DiJonai Carrington felt like a player that really gave you some positive moments throughout the season and in the postseason. What have you seen from her and what is her next step for her having a more prominent role next season?

CURT MILLER: DiJonai came back in year two with a confidence level that she belongs in this lead. She is instant offense, especially when you get her in the open floor and open space. She's an athletic, physical guard that can get herself to the rim. She's an underrated defender physicality-wise. She's just scratching the surface and as she continues to work, she's going to continue to grow and develop in this league.

Q. Congratulations on the season, you guys had an amazing season, even though the result wasn't what you wanted today. The season is over but obviously the grind never stops. What do you feel that you need to do in this off-season to get back to the level that you guys were at this year but finally complete it next year?

CURT MILLER: I haven't thought about the off-season yet. The off-season happened about 20 minutes ago.

But you know, as free agency approaches, we'll get into free agency. We'll start working with the collegiate and international for our draft. But right now, I'm going to go home and sleep tonight and pack and be in Australia with Team USA in two days with my role with Team USA.

So it's not -- I have to change my armor and my letters on my chest, and when I get back from the World Cup, then we'll start to prepare for next year.

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