Chicago sports fans follow one rule: If you win, we’ll show up.
The Sky, who are a victory away from their first WNBA title after routing the Phoenix Mercury 86-50 on Friday night, have given the city the type of team it has lacked recently — a potential champion.
Upon their return from Phoenix, the Sky were greeted with posters and banners at their practice facility in Deerfield. In Chicago, City Hall’s lobby was lined with Sky flags, and for the first time, the famous lions outside the Art Institute’s Michigan Avenue entrance were fitted in Sky threads.
Most significant of all the ways the Sky have been embraced in the last week, Wintrust Arena was sold out for Games 3 and 4.
As the final 60 seconds of the game ticked by, “Sky in four” chants erupted from the 10,378 fans in the building.
“It’s the atmosphere you dream about as a kid,” Courtney Vandersloot said. “Playing in the WNBA Finals in front of a sold-out arena says [everything].”
Before Game 3, Mercury coach Sandy Brondello said her team had to shut down Kahleah Copper in the paint and force her to hit from three-point range. Copper did both. She finished with 22 points on 60% shooting and went 2-for-3 from behind the arc.
Candace Parker added 13 points, and Vandersloot had 10 assists.
The Sky’s 22-point halftime advantage over the Mercury tied for the largest halftime lead in a WNBA Finals game. The last time it happened was in Game 1 of the 2014 Finals, when the Sky trailed the Mercury by 22.
The Sky’s 36-point win was the largest margin of victory in Finals history. Meanwhile, the Mercury’s 25% field-goal percentage was the lowest mark in Finals history. Their 50 points were the second-fewest in a Finals game.
Sky coach/general manager James Wade was most impressed with his team’s performance on the defensive end. They crowded Brittney Griner, holding her to 16 points and two rebounds, and got into passing lanes, forcing 17 turnovers.
Offensively, Copper led the way, but every Sky player scored. Diamond DeShields added 11 points and five steals. The Sky outscored the Mercury 36-14 in the paint.
With nine minutes left, Griner, Diana Taurasi and Skylar Diggins-Smith went to the bench for the night.
“They took us out of everything we wanted to run,” Taurasi said.
Of the nine teams that trailed 2-1 in a best-of-five Finals since the league began playing them in 2005, four have come back to force a Game 5 and win the title. So the Sky’s series lead doesn’t mean they can relax.
The Sky are going for their first title and the Mercury for their fourth, which would tie the Houston Comets and Minnesota Lynx for most in the league.
What would a title mean to the Sky and Chicago? Parker, who became the fourth player in WNBA history with 1,000 career playoff points Wednesday night, said she can’t put it into words.
To reach that mountaintop, the Sky have to slay the dragon. Not the Mercury, but Taurasi. On Friday night, the Sky held her to five points on 10% shooting.
The Mercury have won three elimination games during their playoff run. Taurasi said they will flush this one and respond.
Whether Taurasi should have even been playing was a question fans were contemplating.
In Game 2, she shoved official Tiara Cruse when Cruse was attempting to separate Copper and Sophie Cunningham. Cruse briefly paused when she saw it was Taurasi before allowing her to help Cunningham up. The league announced Thursday that she would not be suspended and instead was fined $2,500.
“To be quite honest, she went in to help her teammate,” Brondello said. “I don’t think she saw who was around her. Isn’t that what you teach your players? Someone needs help, you go help them.”
Because of their No. 6 seed, the Sky knew their road to the Finals wasn’t going to be easy. And they knew nothing about this series would be easy despite the Mercury being seeded fifth.
In Game 3, they made things look easy.
The Sky can secure the championship on Sunday in Game 4. If they play like they did Friday, they will.
“[The Mercury] are a prideful team,” Wade said. “They’re going to come out and punch [Sunday]. But we’re going to punch, too.”