Homecoming queen Candace Parker helps Sky reach WNBA Finals

by 24USATVOct. 7, 2021, 5 p.m. 18
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Chicago Sky’s Candice Parker, coach James Wade and teammates celebrate after defeating the Connecticut Sun 79-69 in Game 4 of a WNBA basketball semifinal series Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2021, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Paul Beaty)

CHICAGO — Courtney Vandersloot and the Chicago Sky are back in the WNBA Finals for the first time since 2014 thanks in big part to Candace Parker’s decision to come home.

Vandersloot scored 19 points and Kahleah Copper added 18 to help the Sky beat the top-seeded Connecticut Sun 79-69 on Wednesday night.

“We were missing one piece, and it was Candace Parker,” Vandersloot said. “We knew what she brought to us. She was going to take us to this point right here. Whether we win a championship or not, she changed this franchise.”

Parker, who returned home to Chicago this season after spending the first 13 years of her career in Los Angeles, finished with 17 points, nine rebounds and seven assists.

“It feels unbelievable,” Parker said. “It’s a full circle moment. To look up in the stands and just see all the people that I started playing basketball in front of. It’s super special.”

Chicago was .500 during the regular season, but a big reason was that Parker was sidelined for the first part of the year with an ankle injury. Once she returned, the team started to get going.

The Sky jumped all over Connecticut behind Vandersloot. She hit two threes to help build a 13-2 advantage less than three minutes into the first quarter. Her ability to connect from long-range helped transform Chicago’s offensive approach in the game.

“She was knocking down the three, and I think it just makes us a different ballclub,” Parker said. “We always preach to be aggressive. We’re a different team when that happens, and I just love the way she adjusts.”

The Sky, who held a seven-point lead heading into the fourth quarter, opened the period with an 8-2 run to put the game away.

Jonquel Jones led the way for the Sun with 25 points and 11 rebounds. Natisha Hiedeman added 16 points off the bench, hitting five 3-pointers.

“I can’t say exactly why we didn’t come out with that enthusiasm and energy that we needed,” Jones said. “I think it was definitely a big factor. Shots just weren’t falling.”

Connecticut was able to trim the deficit to three in the second quarter, but the Sky then finished the half on a 16-6 run. The Sun would never get closer than that the rest of the way.

It was the first time that the No. 1 seed hasn’t reached the finals since the WNBA changed its playoff format in 2016.

“It’s certainly a sad and disappointed locker room,” Sun coach Curt Miller said. “It’s just a disappointing eight-day stretch where we just were out-coached, we were out-played. It just felt like we were always on our heels this series.”

Chicago native Chance the Rapper and Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen took in the game.

“Scottie Pippen was at our game today. He’s the next best thing to Ron Harper in my eyes since Ron Harper was my hero growing up,” Parker said. “Chance the Rapper, Jessie Jackson. We had people come out constantly to our games.”

Connecticut guard Briann January missed the game after injuring her ankle. She tried to warm-up but couldn’t play. January had been key for the Sun’s defense in the first few games.

Chicago now awaits the winner of the other semifinal between the Las Vegas Aces and the Phoenix Mercury. The two teams will play the decisive Game 5 on Friday night. Whoever wins that series will host the first two games of the finals.

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