Monday, June 17, 2024

Sky vs. Sun Game 2: An urgent Candace Parker leads Chicago to victory with another stellar performance

CHICAGO — As time wound down in the second quarter, Candace Parker caught the ball, took one dribble towards the corner and threaded a lefty bounce pass through two defenders right into the stride of Courtney Vandersloot. The veteran point guard converted a layup, extending the Chicago Sky’s lead to 19 and forcing a timeout from an exasperated Connecticut Sun coach Curt Miller. The crowd inside Wintrust Arena erupted, while DJ Cool’s classic track, “Let Me Clear My Throat,” blared over the speakers. 

“Sometimes I get in trouble for squeezing the ball in there and I get turnovers,” Parker said. “But [throwing those passes] feels great. I really – honestly, this is serious – I would rather throw a dime pass than get a bucket any time. I think it’s so fun. The energy with the ball, the movement, the connection between two people. We pride ourselves on our assists, so it’s always fun for me to throw those passes.”

It felt, at that point, that the game was over; in effect, it was. A late Sun charge to make the final score respectable was too little, too late, as the Sky coasted to an 85-77 win in Game 2 to tie their WNBA playoff semifinal series at 1-1. 

After losing Game 1 at home for the second consecutive series, the Sky were determined to bounce back and avoid traveling to Connecticut down 2-0 in this short best-of-five series. Though this wasn’t an elimination game, it might as well have been. The Sky are 4-0 in such games in the last two postseasons, and they excelled with their backs against the wall yet again. 

Leading the way, as she has ever since returning home to Chicago last season, Candace Parker put up 22 points, four rebounds, four blocks, and three assists on 8 of 13 from the field. Her numbers weren’t historic like they were in Game 1, but that was because she only needed to play 25 minutes in the blowout. And even if the box score won’t tell it, her performance in Game 2 was nearly as impressive, and perhaps more important given the circumstances. 

“You see the end is closer than the beginning was, and we’re in a situation where you see an opportunity to win,” Sky head coach James Wade said. “She wants to do everything in her power to get another championship. That’s where you see – I wouldn’t say desperation, but urgency. That urgency comes in the plays of not taking plays off, being your best self at all times, and paying attention to your body on the off days, and putting a lot into your game and your craft. I think it’s a combination of all those things.” 

Parker was everywhere on both sides of the ball, right from the opening tip. Assisting on the Sky’s first two baskets, she finished the first quarter with seven points, two rebounds, two assists, a steal, and a block, and ensured that her team got off to a strong start. Her leadership and sense of the moment were just as important as the plays she was making. 

Those plays should not be discounted, though. Along with the aforementioned pass to Vandersloot, there were a number of highlight-reel plays: an and-one 3-pointer, a turnaround fadeaway in Brionna Jones’ face, a big help-side block on Jonquel Jones that she sent off the former MVP to force a turnover. 

“She’s had so many different great games,” Emma Meesseman said. “Even if she’s having fewer stats she’s still doing so many great things on the court like being a great leader. I don’t think there are enough words, I think that’s your job to find them, to describe what she’s been doing. She’s everywhere; defense, offense, off-court she’s been very vocal. I’m happy to play with her in these series because going against her is not fun.”

Relentless, mesmerizing, one-of-a-kind – hopefully, those words are Meesseman approved and do the job to describe Parker’s performance. The trick now for Parker and the Sky is to maintain this level going into Game 3. 

“Let’s not take our foot off the pedal,” Parker said. “I think after a win is when we need to be even more focused and come ready to play and come focused and come with the right mentality.”

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