Chicago Sky defeats Phoenix Mercury for inaugural WNBA Championship

CHICAGO – At the last buzzer, Candace Parker sprinted across the court in triumph.

Tears had already started to come moments before, as the Chicago Sky, the team she joined just eight months ago after a 13-year career in Los Angeles, took a 4-point lead over the Phoenix Mercury in Game 4 of the WNBA. finals.

Sky guard Courtney Vandersloot then made two free throws. Phoenix center Brittney Griner missed a jumper at the other end of the field, and it was over. The Sky had beaten the Mercury, 80-74, in Game 4 and three-to-one in the series for the franchise’s first-ever championship.

The Chicago players rushed to their field at Wintrust Arena, their sweat-soaked faces now dripping with tears. Parker hugged his family and looked up into the crowd.

“Look at the city, man. They all showed up, ”she said. “They all introduced themselves. “

In a post-game press conference, Parker said she was happy her family could be there.

“It’s just an amazing feeling to be from here and to see so many people in the stands supporting you since you started,” said Parker, who grew up in a suburb of Naperville, Illinois. from Chicago.

It was the second WNBA title for Parker, who signed with Chicago as a free agent in February.

She delivered a dominant performance on both ends of the field, finishing with 16 points, 13 rebounds, 5 assists and 4 steals. She was active on defense and reversed a tally of 3 points in the fourth quarter, which gave Chicago a decisive boost after the Mercury led most of the game.

The sixth-seeded Sky’s were unlikely champions after finishing the regular season with a record .500. But they were the best team in the playoffs. They had to win knockout games against Dallas and Minnesota to reach the semi-finals, where they secured a berth to the final by defeating the seeded Connecticut Sun and their star forward Jonquel Jones, who won. Most Valuable Player award in the regular season.

Sky won Game 1 of the Final in Phoenix thanks to a 21-point outing from forward Kahleah Copper, who was named the final MVP. They lost a close game in Game 2 and then blew Phoenix by 36 points in Game 3.

In Game 4, Griner almost wanted Phoenix to take the win on her own. The Mercury always gave her the ball in the paint, and she made the Sky pay whenever they didn’t send a double team, and sometimes, even when they did. Griner finished with 28 points, including 18 in the first quarter.

But the Sky had Parker, 35, one of the most decorated basketball players of all time. She won two NCAA championships at the University of Tennessee, won two Olympic gold medals and won her first WNBA championship in 2016 with the Sparks. She was MVP of the Finals that year and won two MVP Awards in the regular season. This year she became the first woman to appear on the cover of NBA 2K, the popular basketball video game.

The only thing she hadn’t done was, in part, the reason she had come to Chicago: to bring a championship to her hometown.

“Coming home gave me a sense of peace,” Parker said in a Instagram post in February. “I believe the circle is complete.”

His arrival in Chicago put the Sky in contention for the title, although an inconsistent regular season left many wondering how far they could go in the playoffs. This is when Chicago relied on the key performances of its other stars and actors.

Guard Diamond DeShields moved off the bench at the end of the regular season, but Parker said after Game 3 of the Finals that the team depended on their athleticism. DeShields was a vital part of Sky’s dominant defensive effort in their 86-50 win over Phoenix in that game.

“I wanted to keep everything. I wanted to protect everyone, ”DeShields said after Game 3, in which Chicago kept the Mercury at 25.8 percent on shots.

Vandersloot, the Sky point guard who led the league in assists for the fifth year in a row, averaged 10.2 assists per game in this year’s playoffs.

Vandersloot scored a triple double in a double-overtime victory over Connecticut – the league’s best regular-season defense – in Game 1 of the semi-finals, joining Hall of Fame Sheryl Swoopes as the only player in WNBA history with a triple-double in the playoffs. She was one rebound from another triple double in Game 4, finishing with 10 points, 15 assists and 9 rebounds.

Other Sky players have also enjoyed great success.

Their top scorer was Copper, averaging 17.7 points per game in the playoffs. Vandersloot’s wife, Sky guard Allie Quigley, was averaging 14 points per game in the playoffs heading into Sunday, the team’s second tallest. And she recorded her best performance for the title game. She scored 26 points on 9 of 14 shots. She was 5 out of 10 in a 3 point range.

“Allie really changed the momentum of the game there, and we missed a few,” said Phoenix coach Sandy Brondello. “Maybe if we had done a few, it would be a much happier press conference, right?” “

In an unusual move, none of the Phoenix players showed up for their post-game press conference.

Sunday’s championship culminated with a remarkable rise for Copper, the No.7 pick in the 2016 Washington Mystics Draft. She was traded to Chicago ahead of the 2017 season as part of a deal that sent Elena Delle Donne, the former Sky superstar at Mystiques. Copper started in just 12 sets from 2017 to 2019, fading behind Vandersloot, Quigley and DeShields.

She had a breakout season in 2020 as she moved up to a starting role, further doubling her minutes per game – to 31.3 in 2020 from 14.8 in 2019 – and points per game – to 14, 9 against 6.7. Copper has since established itself as a star in the sky and made the difference in this championship series.

“This is how you market yourself in your city,” Chicago coach James Wade said after Sunday’s game. “People are going to shop around, they’re going to find out who Sloot is, they’re going to find out who Kah is. They already know who Candace is, but there are so many stories on the floor that are unique.

During Wade’s post-championship press conference, Copper trotted over to him, holding an empty champagne course in his hand.

“I’m sorry to interrupt you,” she said into a microphone to Wade’s left, adding that the team was waiting for her, “so that we can celebrate.”

But before that, Copper had a few words of her own. “I knew we were going to win this championship yesterday when Allie was the only one in the gym shooting,” said Copper. She added, “When the playoffs started, we gave ourselves a clean slate. We have completely forgotten about the regular season.

It was a disappointing end to the season for the Mercury, who last won a championship in 2014, when they swept the Sky for their third franchise title.

Phoenix has had a solid season behind Diana Taurasi, the WNBA’s top career scorer, Griner, one of the league’s top crosses, and Skylar Diggins-Smith, who has been a fearless scorer and playmaker her entire career. since joining the league in 2013.

Taurasi, who had been inconsistent throughout the series, had 16 points on Sunday, as did Diggins-Smith.

But while they’ve kept Phoenix alive in so many critical games so far, on Sunday they couldn’t do enough to extend their season for one more game.

The Mercury held a 63-54 lead going into the fourth quarter, but were edged out by Sky, 26-11, in the final period.

“It’s so crazy what we went through,” Vandersloot said after the game. “Nobody knows.”

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