For the Connecticut Sun, the WNBA semifinals against the Chicago Sky was like playing in quicksand. The Sun could never quite get going.
A balanced Sky squad rode an outstanding shooting performance and played some disruptive defense to beat Connecticut Wednesday night, 79-69, to win their best-of-5 series, 3-1 and advance to the WNBA championship finals for the first time since 2014.
The Sun, the No. 1 seed in the WNBA playoffs, had won a franchise-record 14 consecutive games to close out the regular season.
“It was a disappointing eight-day stretch where we just were outcoached and outplayed,” Sun head coach and general manager Curt Miller said. “We couldn’t get enough disruption on (Chicago’s) really talented offensive weapons.
“It felt we were always on our heels in this series, always coming from behind and it just caught up with us,” he said.
The Sky, who finished the regular season with a 16-16 record and lost seven in a row at one point this season, found answers all over the floor. Courtney Vandersloot had a team-high 19 points and drained 5-of-6 from three-point range.
Kahleah Cooper had 18 points, six rebounds while Azura Stevens, the former UConn center, had 11 points, seven rebounds and made 3-of-4 shots from three-point range. And then, there was Candace Parker, the veteran and two-time WNBA MVP that signed with the Sky last January after 13 seasons in Los Angeles.
Parker did a little bit of everything with 17 points, nine rebounds, seven assists, two steals and two blocked shots. The 6-foot-4 forward also hit a pair of three-point shots.
Chicago hit eight of their first 12 shots from three-point range and led by 13 at halftime. Less than three minutes into the game, the Sky led by 11 points thanks in part to a pair of three-point shots from Vandersloot and one from Parker.
Connecticut cut the lead to three points three times in the first quarter but could never get any closer.
All series, we never really clicked the way we wanted to,” Connecticut’s Jasmine Thomas said. “We searched for a rhythm that we had at the end of the regular season, but we never got back to playing Sun basketball in this series.”
Connecticut used offensive rebounding to control games throughout the season. But in this series, it was the Sky who held their own on the boards and that fueled their offense, which was balanced and hard to contain. The Sky had 20 assists on 28 field goals.
League MVP Jonquel Jones led the Sun with 25 points and 11 rebounds but didn’t get much more help, offensively. Natisha Hiedemann had 16 points, including hitting 5-of-6 from three-point range. Jasmine Thomas, who struggled shooting with a 3-of-14 performance, had 11 points while Alyssa Thomas added seven off the bench.
The Sun played without Briann January, who hurt her ankle and knee at the end of game three.
“The game got a little faster that we wanted at times,” Miller said. “Our desire to win was so high that at times, we were playing out of character.”
Chicago had something to do with that. They played some stifling defense throughout the series. The Sun cut the lead to seven points after three quarters but the Sky allowed Connecticut just four points and one field goal in the first five minutes of the fourth quarter as Chicago grew their lead to 15 points.
“We could never make it close enough to have them feel some pressure,” Miller said. “We just never capitalized on our golden opportunities in game one and game three.”
One might forget that the Sun dropped the opening game of the series in double overtime with several chances to win the game in regulation and overtime.
Chicago raced out of the gate with a quick 13-2 lead with the Sky sinking three 3-point shots. The lead was 11 until Connecticut cut the lead to three with an 8-0 run of their own. Jones had a three-point play, Heideman hit a jumper and Jones had an aggressive move to the basket to cut the Sky’s lead to 20-17.
Three times, Connecticut cut the lead to three and each time, the Sky responded with a basket.
In the second quarter, Chicago had a 10-point lead, 38-28 thanks in part to 72 percent shooting from the floor to that point of the contest.
Again, the Sun rallied. Brionna Jones grabbed an offensive rebound and scored. Thirty seconds later, it was Brionna Jones sinking a pair of free throws. Jasmine Thomas stole the ball from Vandersloot, held her the Sky guard away from her with one arm while she dribbled up court with the other hand.
Jasmine Thomas drove to the basket, scored and was fouled by Vandersloot. Jasmine Thomas sank the foul shot to cut the lead to three, 38-35.
But Chicago responded with an 8-0 run to regain control. Parker stole the ball and fed Copper for a basket. Stevens drained a three-point shot and Copper drove to the basket to swell the lead to 46-35. The Sky led by 13 at halftime. Connecticut got no closer than seven in the second half.
“It’s just an empty feeling right now that we didn’t play as well as were capable of playing over the last eight days,” Miller said.
2021 WNBA semifinals
No. 6 Chicago vs. No. 1 Connecticut
Tuesday, Sept. 28
Chicago 101, Connecticut 95, 2 OT
Thursday, Sept. 30
Connecticut 79, Chicago 68
Sunday, Oct. 3
Chicago 86, Connecticut 83
Wednesday, Oct. 6
Chicago 79, Connecticut 69, Chicago wins series, 3-1