Sky win their first WNBA title after explosive fourth quarter
As the buzzer sounded, blue and gold confetti blotted out the arena lights, falling to the floor in celebration of the Sky’s first WNBA title after beating the Mercury 80-74.
Tears welled up in Candace Parker’s eyes as teammate Courtney Vandersloot sank the final two free throws of Game 4 of the WNBA Finals on Sunday.
Parker could taste it.
A WNBA title, a hometown championship that she set out to win when she signed with the Sky eight months ago, was seconds away from being realized.
On the ensuing play, Parker leaped to the rim to pull down her 13th rebound before dribbling down the sideline toward her mother, Sara, as time expired.
As the buzzer sounded on the Sky’s 80-74 victory against the Phoenix Mercury, blue and gold confetti blotted out the lights at Wintrust Arena in celebration of the team’s first title.
“I had flashbacks to high school,” Parker said. “When I first realized we won the state championship. [That moment] was similar.”
When Parker signed in the spring, the Sky’s championship expectations became even greater.
But what came next was less compelling and more adverse than anyone could have predicted. The Sky’s season began incredibly low before being resurrected by a franchise-best winning streak.
The highs and lows of the Sky’s season didn’t end there. In the penultimate game of the regular season, the Sky lost by 33 points to the Las Vegas Aces, prompting a team meeting.
It was at that point the Sky readjusted their focus and commitment to their championship hopes.
“We asked each other, ‘Who are we going to play for?’ ” Allie Quigley said after her team-high 26-point performance. “The first thing Candace said was [that] she was going to play for me. In the end, we all said we wanted to play for each other.”
And that’s exactly what they did, playing the kind of team basketball espoused by coach James Wade.
Four players scored in double figures, including Parker, who had a double-double with 16 points and13 rebounds. Vandersloot finished with a near triple-double (10 points, nine rebounds, 15 assists). Kahleah Copper, the MVP of the Finals, added 10 points.
Belief permeated through the Sky, even as they fell behind by 14 points late in the third quarter. Parker knocked in a three from the top of the key, and as she maintained the follow-through pose, she glanced around the stadium.
It felt like a signal from her to the fans that the game was far from over.
“[The second half] was a microcosm of our season,” Wade said, “where you go down, but you keep pushing.”
Game 4 was physical throughout. The Mercury’s Diana Taurasi and Brittney Griner took the court with a vengeance. It’s what was expected after Taurasi left the media room following a 36-point loss Friday night yelling, “FIFTY! We can’t be any worse than 50.”
Griner scored 28 points on 63.2% shooting. Despite the Sky’s best defensive efforts, they could not take her out of her game.
Even with Griner going off, the Sky, specifically Copper, thought they would outlast the Mercury.
“I knew we were going to win this championship yesterday when Allie was the only one in the gym shooting,” Copper said.
Quigley opened the fourth quarter with back-to-back three-point baskets to cut the deficit to five. Her 11 points in the last 10 minutes invigorated not just her team but the 10,378 fans in attendance.
There is no questioning the role Parker played in bringing the Sky their first WNBA title. Even if she didn’t have the best year of her illustrious career statistically, her leadership was critical.
But this title required contributions from everyone.
The Sky needed Vandersloot’s 11-year loyalty to the organization, Quigley’s sharpshooting and empathetic connection to her teammates, Copper’s fire, Azurá Stevens’ X-factor abilities and all the qualities of every member of the bench.
They also needed Wade. Years ago, before she was even a member of the team, Parker knew the Sky needed him, too.
“Candace told me, ‘This dude is special,’ ” Vandersloot said. “I told [owner] Michael Alter, ‘Candace Parker said we need to hire this guy.’ Now she comes to play for him, and the first year we win a championship. I don’t think you can write it better than that.”