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The Sky were able to make WNBA MVP, Jonquel Jones, appear mortal Thursday night holding her to four points on two of nine made shot attempts. Still, they gave up 12 offensive rebounds and were outrebounded 39-26.
The Sky are two wins from their second trip to the WNBA Finals and their first since 2014. After splitting the first two games of a best-of-five semifinal series against the Sun in Connecticut, they’ll play Games 3 and 4 at Wintrust Arena on Sunday and Wednesday, potentially setting themselves up to take the series at home and move closer to the first WNBA title in franchise history.
“We’re never going to relax,” guard/forward Kahleah Copper said Thursday before a difficult loss in Game 2 in which the Sky scored just nine points in the fourth quarter. “We don’t want to play five games. We want to win and end it as soon as possible.”
Preseason predictions from the media and coaches had the Sky as a favorite to make it to the Finals. Suns coach Curt Miller said the Sky were his preseason favorite to win it all. A survey of the WNBA’s general managers in May had the Sky tied with the Mystics as the second-most likely team to win the title, behind the Aces.
But not much has followed the expected plan for the Sky, who, it’s safe to say, were the WNBA’s most underwhelming team, given their talent.
Candace Parker was one of the most significant free-agent signings in recent Chicago sports history, with 58% of GMs believing she’d have the biggest impact on her new team among offseason additions.
She did, and the Sky’s record shows it. They went 1-7 during the regular season with Parker on the bench with ankle injuries and 15-9 with her playing — providing not just numbers but also leadership and a constant ability to facilitate.
So, how did the Sky end up an underdog in the playoffs? Inconsistency. They locked up the sixth of eight seeds with a 16-16 record that opposing coaches said doesn’t accurately tell their story, but also went 2-4 in the final six games, which didn’t bode well for their postseason chances.
In the do-or-die format of single-elimination games in the first two rounds, the Sky excelled. Their most complete game of the year was a 89-76 win over the Lynx in the second round last Sunday; they followed that up Tuesday by taking Game 1 from the Sun in double overtime on the road.
The adversity they faced during an up-and-down season has become their fuel.
“You don’t reinvent yourself in the postseason,” Parker said ahead of this series. “We need everybody to be the best version of themselves.”
If the Sky are to play for their first WNBA title, they’ll need the entire team involved offensively in Games 3 and 4. They’ll also need to escape the top-seeded Sun’s suffocating defense, which limited them to their fourth-lowest score of the year Thursday in an 79-68 loss. The bench will need to be more productive, too. In Game 1, it accounted for 27 points. In Game 2, that number fell to 15.
The Sky made Sun forward Jonquel Jones, the WNBA MVP, appear mortal Thursday, holding her to four points on 2-for-9 shooting. Still, they gave up 12 offensive rebounds and were outrebounded 39-26 overall.
It’s hard to imagine a team with guards Courtney Vandersloot, Allie Quigley and Parker as the underdog, but such is the case — at least for the rest of this series. Big performances are needed from all three Sunday if the Sky are going to steal another one.