The Chicago Sky know this position well. Down in a game. Trailing in a series. Holding the lower seed. Any and all of it.
"That's sort of been our M.O. for the last two years is we've always found a way to bounce back," Azurá Stevens, the Sky's sixth player, said after the Game 1 loss and less than a year after the Sky won the championship as the No. 6 seed.
Now the No. 2 seed in the WNBA playoffs, the Sky took a high bounce back and evened the semifinal series, 1-1, with a 85-77 runaway win against the No. 3 Connecticut Sun at Wintrust Arena in Chicago. Game 3 in the best-of-five series is Sunday in Connecticut (1 p.m. ET on ESPN2).
Chicago is looking to become the first team to repeat since the Los Angeles Sparks in 2001-02. The Game 1 loss was as tight as their four wins over the Sun in the regular season. But the win on Wednesday night was a domination and got out of hand quickly with another big outing from Candace Parker. The Sky played their style, rather than fall into the physical paint-pushing Connecticut played in its win.
All five Chicago starters were in double digits and the team shot 50.8% overall and 40% from 3-point range, numbers more in line with their standard game. Head coach James Wade emptied the bench for the last few minutes. The Sun had a game-high 23 points from reigning MVP Jonquel Jones.
How the Sky won Game 2
Chicago found its regular pace and play from the jump. They moved the ball well, found cutters and finished off good looks to head into the halftime break leading by 15. They also answered in physicality after Stevens said the Sky weren’t expecting how physical the Sun were to start Game 1.
Every starter was involved in a more fluid-moving offense. Courtney Vandersloot averaged 11.8 points per game in the regular season, but didn’t score until the fourth quarter in the first meeting of the series. She answered by putting home a layup less than five minutes into this one and finished with 10 on a far more efficient night. And after a highly uncharacteristic two assists, she more easily found cutters into the paint for a game-high eight of the team's 22.
Allie Quigley (11.4 ppg) scored all five of her points in the first quarter to nearly equal her entire Game 1 output. The more pressing concern was the four-time 3-Point All-Star Contest winner missed all five 3-pointers she attempted in that five-point loss. On Wednesday, she was 3-of-6 (4-of-10 overall) and chipped in 13 points.
— Chicago Sky (@chicagosky) September 1, 2022
It is Parker who remains the engine and gas pedal of the Sky’s semifinals so far. Following an absolutely monster Game 1 she made her first five shots, including two 3-pointers. It wasn't until the 1:26 mark of the second quarter that she missed her first field-goal attempt.
Parker scored 22 points shooting 8-of-13 and 3-of-4 from 3-point range. She added four rebounds, four assists, three blocks, one steal and only one turnover. The one issue in her 24-minute line was a 3-of-7 night from the free-throw line.
Kahleah Copper scored 12 and Emma Meesseman added 14 on a 6-of-8 shooting night.
How the Sun can bounce back in Game 3
The Sun have never had a shortage of bigs over the last few semifinal runs, but they have been short on the backcourt stepping up when needed. That could continue to be a glaring issue.
Head coach Curt Miller noted this after starting guards Courtney Williams and Natisha Hiedeman combined for 11 points in Game 1. Williams had a rough shooting day then (3-of-12) that continued by missing all four field goals in the first quarter on Wednesday. She was 3-of-5 in the second, but it wasn't enough to truly get going and she scored six points (3-of-10) in 19 minutes. Hiedeman had 12 going 5-of-9.
Miller opted to go with Dijonai Carrington and Odyssey Sims in long stretches down the second half with the game 20 points out of reach. They combined for 13 shooting 6-of-8. Jones (10-of-17) was the only other Sun player to shoot better than 40%.
Neither Alyssa Thomas (7p, 10r) nor DeWanna Bonner, who was 0-of-6 and made two free throws, could break through enough to make a difference and keep the Sun in it. Defense needs to be Connecticut's calling card and there wasn't enough of it early to jam up the Sky.
WNBA semifinal schedule
Game 1: Sun 68, Sky 63
Game 2: Sky 85, Sun 77 (Series even, 1-1)
Game 3, Sunday: Chicago at Connecticut, 1 p.m. ET, ESPN2
Game 4, Tuesday Sept. 6: Chicago at Connecticut, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN2
Game 5*, Thursday Sept. 8: Connecticut at Chicago, 8 p.m ET, ESPN2