“Kahleah Freaking Copper.”
WNBA fans are familiar with the phrase that Copper has coined and the performances that prompt its use. One of those efforts came Sunday afternoon at Wintrust Arena.
Copper went off for 26 points, nine in the fourth quarter, to propel the Sky to an 86-83 victory against the Sun and a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five semifinal series.
“That’s who she is,” Sky coach/general manager James Wade said. “The fact that she’s able to put us on her shoulders emotionally and feed [us] that energy. Not only did our team follow her but the crowd followed her as well.”
Trailing 74-71 with 5:17 to play, the Sky went on a 9-0 run. After an Azura Stevens layup, Courtney Vandersloot sparked the team by taking a charge from Alyssa Thomas on the next possession. Candace Parker found Stevens for an easy layup 13 seconds later to give the Sky a 75-74 lead with 4:10 remaining.
It was the momentum shift the Sky needed at exactly the right time.
“In a game like this with everything that’s at stake you have to be willing to sacrifice your body,” Wade said.
The Sun did not make the final four minutes easy on the Sky. Thomas scored the Sun’s next seven points, including a jumper to pull the Sun to within one at 82-81 with 1:09 remaining. But the Sky were able to hold on in a game which featured 16 lead changes and 10 ties.
In her fifth game back since tearing her Achilles in January, Thomas finished with 18 points, three rebounds, three assists and two steals.
This series has been highlighted by thrilling matchups and Game 3 was no exception. Between Dewanna Bonner guarding Copper and Briann January guarding Allie Quigley, every basket, steal and rebound mattered in the back-and-forth game.
Bonner led the Sun with 22 points, while January had 11 points and four assists.
Quigley, who Sun coach/general manager Curt Miller said is one of the best off-the-ball guards in the league, finished with 21 points (on 54.5% shooting), four rebounds and two steals. In Game 2, Quigley was held to eight points.
“We let her get some rhythm shots today,” January said. “A good shooter, once she gets some rhythm shots, there’s not much you can do. We need to be better at the point when she catches.”
Parker (10 points) is averaging 14.6 points through the first three games, and her 10 rebounds moved her past former teammate Lisa Leslie and into third on the WNBA’s all-time playoff rebounds list (472).
Defensively Parker and Stevens have limited WNBA MVP Jonquel Jones’ production in the paint. They held her to 10 points.
Wade stressed improvement on the glass, and the Sky responded, outrebounding the Sun 35-30. The Sky allowed just one offensive rebound in the first half and seven total.
Game 4 is set for 7 p.m. Wednesday at Wintrust Arena.
“Chicago, they want a winner,” Wade said. “We desperately want to give it to them.”