The Chicago Sky are WNBA champions for the first time in franchise history.
The No. 6-seeded Sky erased a double-digit deficit and came back in the final minutes to defeat the No. 5 Phoenix Mercury, 80-74, in Game 4 on Sunday at Wintrust Arena in Chicago. They are the first team not seeded No. 1 or No. 2 to win the WNBA championship after going 16-16 in the regular season.
It's the second WNBA title for Candace Parker, who shook up the league by opting to sign with her hometown Sky in free agency last spring. Parker continuously motioned for her team to stay calm in the deciding game and sparked streaks in the third and fourth quarters that kept the series from heading back to Phoenix.
As the clock expired she chased down her family in the corner for big hugs and found her daughter, Lailaa.
"I had flashbacks to high school and it was like we won the state championship," Parker told reporters post-game. "It was amazing to hug my dad and my mom and my family. It's an amazing feeling to be from here and see some people in the stands who have supported you since you started."
— Yahoo Sports (@YahooSports) October 17, 2021
Allie Quigley's 3-pointers at the front of the fourth quarter kept the Sky in it and Courtney Vandersloot expertly set up the game-tying and go-ahead points, then added the sealing baskets. They are the only two players who were with Chicago in their previous WNBA Finals in 2014, when they were swept by the Mercury.
Quigley told reporters the team hit a breaking point about a month ago when they asked for whom they were playing. Parker said she was playing for Quigley to get a title, and the team went around the room saying who they wanted to win a title.
Parker led all players in rebounds with 13 and added 16 points and five assists. Quigley, who is also from nearby Joliet, scored 26 points, going 5-for-10 from 3-point range, and had five rebounds. She righted the team's 3-point shooting that hovered at 15% at halftime.
Vandersloot neared another postseason triple-double, which would have been her second and the third overall, with 10 points, 15 assists and nine rebounds. She set an all-time record for assists (50) in any postseason series, per Her Hoop Stats. The veteran point guard had 102 assists this playoffs, another WNBA record.
Parker joshed during the post-game press conference that Vandersloot should have known she was close to a triple-double again and grabbed a final rebound.
Kahleah Copper was named Finals MVP after a thrilling four games for the Sky. She had a quiet 10 points in Game 4, but her transition runs and finishes shocked momentum back to Chicago throughout. She averaged 17 points and 5.5 rebounds in the series.
Kahleah Copper is the 2021 WNBA Finals MVP 😤
Well deserved 👏 pic.twitter.com/lfvYqotNs1
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) October 17, 2021
Sky's defense fuels offense
The Mercury went back to playing through Brittney Griner again in Game 4 and took a 12-point lead in the third quarter. But their shots didn't fall late, and the Sky used it to fuel their own offense. Chicago plays with pace and soars in transition, which the team used multiple times to either start runs or keep them going.
Parker found Copper on a cut to the basket and on the next possession drilled a 3-pointer to tie it, 72-all, at 1:57. The Sky's 11-0 run continued with baskets by Stefanie Dolson set up expertly by Vandersloot to make it a four-point lead and a minute until the buzzer.
"I never doubted for a moment we were going to win that game," Sky head coach James Wade told reporters. "It was a matter of when will we take the lead."
Diana Taurasi pulled the Mercury within two on two of three successful free throws. Vandersloot pushed the two-possession lead back on a fadeaway jumper and added free throws on a late foul. Parker was already emotional on the court as she was shooting with 10 seconds to play and Wintrust was electric. The fans didn't look to sit down at any point in the fourth quarter and showed up for another sellout.
Griner carries Mercury
Griner scored a game-high 28 points with seven rebounds, two assists, one steal and one block. She was 12-for-19 shooting as one of the few Mercury players with a hot night from the floor. Skylar Diggins-Smith was cold early, finishing at 7-for-18 for 16 points and eight assists. Brianna Turner had 12 rebounds.
Griner scored 240 points over the 11-game postseason run. The mark is second in WNBA history behind teammate Diana Taurasi. Taurasi scored 245 points over the 11-game championship run in 2009.
The Mercury could have brought it back home for a winner-take-all with plenty of chances late. But Taurasi missed multiple 3-pointers and easy buckets didn't go for anyone. Taurasi was 4-for-16, including 3-for-9 from 3-point range, for 16 points as she heads to another offseason potentially mulling retirement. Mercury head coach Sandy Brondello said after the game Taurasi has been receiving injections to play after an ankle injury late in the season.
Phoenix players declined to speak with media after the loss.
Candace Parker keeps Sky calm in comeback
The Mercury held a 12-point lead, their largest of the game, with three minutes to play until the fourth. Parker cut into it with seven consecutive points, all fueled by a refocused Chicago defense that pulled the Sky within five. Her 3-pointer snapped a skid of 10 consecutive missed 3s for Chicago. She then scored off a pass from Vandersloot on the transition steal and hit two free throws after the defense blocked an attempt by Shey Peddy. Throughout it, she kept pushing her hands down in a "settle" motion for teammates.
The Mercury went back up by nine on a last-second layup by Diggins-Smith off a turnover. Phoenix added points at the end of each quarter in hustle possessions.
Quigley went off from range with three 3-pointers in the fourth. Brondello credited it for changing the momentum of the game afterward. The Sky collectively had a poor shooting night from distance, but Quigley's hot streak late drew them within a few possessions. The Mercury went cold late with missed layups and the Sky, though they committed a few offensive fouls, took advantage.
Diana Taurasi into early foul trouble
It was a chippy and physical Game 4 from the onset with bodies hitting the floor and subtle shoves going around. Within the first five minutes, Taurasi drew a technical foul for saying something toward the official. The words barely appeared out of her mouth by the time it was called, much to her irritation. Teammates came in to grab her and prevent Taurasi from saying more.
The official who made the call was Tiara Cruse, the same one who Taurasi shoved twice in succession during Game 2. No call was made for the incident, which happened after Chicago's Copper went after a ball held by Sophie Cunningham. Later the next night, Taurasi was fined $2,500, though there is controversy about if she should have been suspended for Game 3 according to the rulebook.
Taurasi said the next day she didn't know it was a ref, and shrugged it off as Twitter fans making a big deal of it. The day after Game 3, Taurasi met with reporters during shootaround and asked if the arena also kept up the number of fouls as well as the final score from the Mercury loss. The teams were tied with 16 fouls apiece, though. Chicago took only four free throws in Game 2, the Mercury's victory.
Fifty seconds after Taurasi's technical, Copper was called for a tech on the other end after a physical back-and-forth with Taurasi under the basket.
The recently named GOAT picked up a personal at 3:13 of the first and added another at 8:41. She drew a third at 3:51 when she charged Parker near the elbow. Cunningham came in for the rest of the first half. The physicality settled down in the second half with the Mercury taking a seven-point lead, then the largest of the game, into the break.
2021 WNBA Finals
Game 1: Sky 91, Mercury 77
Game 2: Mercury 91, Sky 86
Game 3: Sky 86, Mercury 50
Game 4: Sky 80, Mercury 74