“Pace” and “paint” were two words that Sun coach Curt Miller and Sky coach/general manager James Wade emphasized Tuesday.
By the second overtime of the teams’ WNBA semifinal series opener at Mohegan Sun Arena, neither of those words mattered. At that point, it was all about heart, and the Sky had more of it, winning 101-95 to take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-five series.
Courtney Vandersloot led the Sky with the second playoff triple-double in WNBA history, joining Sheryl Swoopes. She finished with 12 points, 18 assists and 10 rebounds. Her 18 assists also set a WNBA playoff record, beating Sue Bird’s 16 in 2020.
“She’s amazing,” Wade said of Vandersloot. “If you look at the game, there was a certain presence she had. She was able to control the game from the beginning to the end. It will go down as one of the best point guard games in playoff history.”
Before the game, Miller talked about stifling the Sky’s pace and limiting their production in the paint, while Wade noted how important it would be to control the glass to get out in transition. The Sky didn’t control the glass, giving up 17 offensive rebounds, but their pace and balanced attack made up for that against the Sun, who had held opponents to fewer than 70 points per game this season.
The Sun took a two-point lead with 24 seconds left in regulation — part of a 7-0 run. The Sky’s Kahleah Copper tied things up after DeWanna Bonner fouled her at the three-point line, making two of her three shots to send the game to overtime at 84 apiece.
The Sky had control of the ball with 10 seconds left in the first overtime and the score tied when Vandersloot turned it over, sending the game to a second OT.
Bonner held Copper — who averaged more than 19 points in the Sky’s first two playoff games — to 13 points, including just nine in regulation. But the Sky’s bench made up for Copper’s relative absence on offense, scoring 27.
Candace Parker led the Sky with 22 points, with Allie Quigley right behind with 19.
The No. 1-seeded Sun closed the regular season on a 14-game winning streak and enjoyed a nearly 10-day break ahead of the semifinals. But their time off didn’t play to their advantage. They struggled to keep up in the first quarter, when they fell behind by 11.
By the second quarter, their disruptive defense showed up, forcing seven Sky turnovers in the first half and 19 total.
The Sky were Miller’s preseason favorite to win the championship because of a dynamic offense that doesn’t rely on one, two or even three players specifically. Four Sky players scored in double figures Tuesday.
History is on the Sun’s side. Since 2016, when the WNBA switched to its current playoff format, the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds have met in the finals every year except 2018, when the No. 1 Storm swept the No. 3 Mystics.
The Sky aren’t focused on history — they’re locked in on Game 2 on Thursday night.
“I always like to keep legacies alive, and in Kobe Bryant’s words, the job is not finished,” Parker said.