The No. 6 Chicago Sky are heading to the WNBA Finals after pulling the biggest upset of the league's current playoff format.
The Sky knocked off the No. 1 Connecticut Sun, 79-69, in Game 4 on Thursday night at Wintrust Arena in Chicago to take the series, 3-1. They are the only the second team seeded outside of the top two, and first outside of the top three, to reach the Finals since the format changed in 2016.
Chicago will make its second trip to the WNBA Finals in the franchise's 16-year history and is the third team to reach the final series without a winning regular-season record. They were 16-16. The Sky last made it in 2014 and signed former MVP Candace Parker in the offseason to help get them past the early rounds and to the top.
The Sky await the winner of the Las Vegas Aces-Phoenix Mercury series. The Aces routed the Mercury on Wednesday night to force a decisive Game 5 on Friday. Game 1 of the WNBA Finals is scheduled for 3 p.m. ET Sunday on ABC.
Sky get hot at right time
If fresh eyes watched the Sky-Sun semifinal tilt with a blind regular-season resume for each team, it'd be understandable if they switched them up on accident. While the Sky finished a bumpy season at 16-16, they have been consistently at their best during a playoff run that started with back-to-back single-elimination games. When it comes down to it, the Sky came together at just the right time.
While they were a possession or two from each other in the first three games, the Sky jumped out to the biggest lead of the series (18) in the third quarter of Game 4 and kept a nice double-digit distance on the Sun. Every time Connecticut clawed back into it, the Sky shut it down and pulled away again. The Sun also couldn't help their own cause with a penchant for forgetting the shot clock and overall self-inflicted turnovers.
Copper, Parker, Vandersloot lead Sky
Chicago remained hot from 3-point range in Game 4 and kicked things off with two long-range shots from point guard Courtney Vandersloot in the first two minutes. She had three by quarter's end, plus one by Parker, and the Sky led by six points. It ballooned to 13 by half with a scorching 8-for-13 (61.5%) mark from 3-point range.
Vandersloot led a balanced scoring attack with 19 points, shooting 5-for-6 from 3-point range. She had four rebounds and four assists, a low number for the All-Star point guard that usually points to a loss for the Sky. But those 3s early gave Chicago a nice cushion while the Sun struggled. Even three early fouls didn't stand in "Sloot's" way.
Kahleah Copper was again on fire and clutch early, while Parker did a little of everything for her hometown squad. Copper laid in 18 points, 13 of which came in the first half, and added six rebounds. Parker had 17 points with nine rebounds, seven assists, two steals and two blocks. Azurá Stevens had another clutch breakout game with 11 points and seven rebounds. Allie Quigley was the only starter to miss double-digits with six points in 27 minutes.
Sun can't keep up despite MVP coming alive
The Sun came into the series having won their last 14 regular-season games dating back to July 3. But the series was reminiscent of their Commissioner's Cup loss to the Seattle Storm out of the Olympic break. And outside of Game 4, it was a series determined by the slimmest of margins they couldn't overcome.
"We just couldn’t string together the stretches," Sun head coach Curt Miller said on a Zoom call after the loss. "They scored 25 points in the second half. Think about that. I feel like they scored that in the first few minutes.
"Holding them to a 25-point half, you'd think we'd win, but they had a 50-plus point first half."
Connecticut lost in two overtimes in the first game despite late chances and watched as a similar situation played out in Game 3. That put their backs against the wall and they had to head into an elimination game without guard Briann January, a first-team all-defensive team selection. January was ruled out ahead of the game with an ankle injury Miller said happened on her missed breakaway layup at the end of Game 3.
Most frustrating for Sun fans is Game 4 was arguably the best for MVP Jonquel Jones, who was kept to four points in Game 2 and barely reached a double-double in Game 3. Jones came out aggressive early and had a team-high 11 points by half. But it wasn't enough as DeWanna Bonner, Brionna Jones and Alyssa Thomas weren't active on offense.
Quiet night for Sun offense
Jones finished with a game-high 25 points on 10-for-18 shooting and was chased down by Parker after the buzzer for a hug and words. She hit 2-of-4 3-point attempts, including one to start the third quarter that along with Natisha Hiedeman's began to pull the Sun into contention. Instead Parker, Copper and Vandersloot combined for 11 straight points to extinguish it.
Hiedeman scored 16 points in 25 minutes off the bench and hit 5-of-6 3-point attempts, a big boost to the Sun pulling even in the box score at 8-for-17 (47.1%) as a team behind the arc. Jasmine Thomas scored 11, but was 3-for-14 from the floor. Bonner scored four points on only 1-of-6 attempts and Brionna Jones, named the league's Most Improved Player, had six points.