It’s over. Chicago Sky have been proclaimed WNBA champions after defeating Phoenix Mercury 74-80 last night, writing a perfect closing story. Because it was Candace Parker, who if not, one of the main responsible for turning the game around, offering her hometown the ring she had been looking for a few months ago. Ulysses’ meeting with Penelope, there, after so much travel, in a Wintrust Arena to the flag.
Because the first title in the history of the franchise has been won against Phoenix Mercury, the team that had swept them in their only other appearance in a finals: in 2014. Of that, the star Sky was a certain Elena Delle Donne. This was transferred in 2016 to Washington Mystics. In exchange came two young players: Kaleah Copper, Stefanie Dolson. One is today MVP of the finals. The other scored the three most important baskets of her life in the fourth quarter yesterday.
And in short, yesterday’s victory is the culmination of continuously upward trajectories. That of Astou Ndour, third Spanish after Amaya Valdemoro and Anna Cruz to win the WNBA. That of coach James Wade. That of Sky themselves, who went from a disastrous start in the regular league, to a discreet playoff qualification (16-16 record), to a sufficiency victory over Dallas Wings in the first round. A, from there, leave on the road to everyone how much favorite to the ring they crossed. Minnesota Lynx. Connecticut Sun. Phoenix Mercury.
Chicago Sky, against the tide
It was not a placid victory for the Skies, far from it. A few days ago we said that these Sky by James Wade are running, that there is no calmer for them than to go full throttle, because with Courtney Vandersloot and Candace Parker at the controls you can live like this. But yesterday was a slow game, stuck, static. Perfect setting for the Mercury to force a fifth game in Phoenix.
Those of Sandy Brondello improved the defensive balance. They closed the roads to the paint that had done so much damage during the series. They prevented penetrations in exchange for letting Chicago play the outside shot. And it worked. At halftime, the Skies were 2/13 in triples. At the end of the third quarter, a 3/17.
In this context, the colossal, unstoppable Brittney Griner emerged. Griner came out plugged in from the first second, her teammates had the patience to look for her in the painting, the rivals found no antidote for her. For three quarters it was a constant punishment. Without help, safe basket. With assists, pass out, ball movement, two easy points for the Mercury.
For more INRI, a friend of the artist from Chicago Chance the RapperSitting there in the front row, he faced Griner and she only got even hotter. Take one, prick. And another. And another. See if you keep yelling. The crowd at Chicago’s Wintrust Arena began to pay off their frustration with the guy in the green cap. But idiot, you’re messing it up.
Diana Taurasi and Skylar Diggins-Smith, the other two legs of the big three of the Mercury, they were a little erratic, but it did not matter. The score at the end of the third quarter was 63-54 for Phoenix. It smelled like a fifth game.
Comeback in the last quarter
Chicago stayed in the game with details, like a boxer taking cover from the shower of blows next to the ropes. Dropping a fist here, a combo there. Candace Parker’s key actions on defense. Little outbursts on the run, commanded by Vandersloot. Points from Allie Quigley, another Chicago native who wanted to win the city’s first WNBA ring. Little things that kept them in the game.
Until they smelled blood in the last quarter. There was a key moment there: several failures under the basket of Taurasi, Diggins-Smith, Turner. Chicago’s defense up a point, leaving Brittney Griner at 2/7. That starts to run. Quigley scoring three triples. Vandersloot who takes the helm of the game and distributes five assists. Candace who is at ease. And the comeback came.
The Skies overwhelmed the Mercury with a 26-11 run in the fourth quarter after losing the top three. It was a final apotheosis, with triples from Quigley and Candace Parker. With four crucial points from Stefanie Dolson to Vandersloot’s pass. And a historical basket from the base plus two free throws to certify the ring.
Kaleah Copper, Finals MVP
In preseason, Candace Parker had told Kaleah Copper — 27 years old, an ever-rising career — that she had to be one of the leaders of these Skies. One of those that led the franchise to its first title. Said and done. Copper was named MVP of the finals yesterday. He has averaged 17 points and 5.5 rebounds in the four games.
The award could have gone to Parker herself, who would repeat the 2016 MVP when she won her other ring with the Los Angeles Sparks. There were reasons for it. For his influence, for his ability to change games on both sides of the court. For unmatched leadership and charisma and calm.
There were also reasons, many, to give it to Courtney Vandersloot. Always an underrated point, Director Sky finished yesterday with 10 points, 9 rebounds and 15 assists. Their averages in the four games have been scandalous: 11.5 points, with 52.5% in shots from the field; 5 rebounds; 12.5 assists with only 2.3 losses per game. Add 1.8 steals and 1 block per game.
However, it has been Kaleah Copper, executor of the game they lead Sloot and CP3, a Philadelphia native who plays hard, fast, physical, flying to the basket without fear no matter Who gets in the way, as it is played on the East Coast, which has taken the prize. Deserved, like everything that has happened to Chicago this season.
Astou Ndour-Fall, third Spanish with WNBA ring
Yesterday’s game was the third WNBA ring in the history of Spanish basketball, the work of an Astou Ndour-Fall who stayed in 4:41 minutes of play. Astou thus unites his success to Amaya Valdemoro’s with Houston Comets and Anna Cruz’s in Minnesota Lynx.
It may also have been the last chance to see Diana Taurasi on the floor. The GOAT, his 39 years, is still not clear if he will continue playing another season. She will now go to the thinking corner, like her friend Sue Bird, who keeps turning her head.
What is certain is that yesterday was the culmination of a great season, in which the WNBA has skyrocketed its hearings. A year in which a new batch – Kaleah Copper itself, along with Betnijah Laney, Kelsey Plum, Jonquel Jones, Sabrina Ionescu, Arike Ogunbowale and, of course, Breanna Stewart – has definitively taken over the generation. And in which Candace Parker’s Chicago Sky has closed a wonderful circle. What better way to say goodbye. Until next year.
(Cover photo by Stacy Revere / Getty Images)