The roles have been reversed in the WNBA semifinal matchup this season between the Sky and the Sun.
In the semifinal between the teams last season, the Sky were the underdogs after going .500 in the regular season while the Sun finished with the best record in the league. We all know what happened next. The Sky won the best-of-five series 3-1 before beating the Mercury 3-1 in the WNBA Finals for their first title.
So Sun coach Curt Miller’s team is coming into Wintrust Arena for Game 1 on Sunday with revenge in mind.
‘‘We still have a bitter taste in our mouths from last season,’’ forward Alyssa Thomas said after the Sun wrapped up their first-round series with a Game 3 victory Wednesday against the Wings.
The Sky, however, have had the Sun’s number all season. They won all four regular-season games between the teams, including one in overtime without Candace Parker and another without coach James Wade, who missed three games in June and July while recovering from COVID-19.
The Sky had some of their best shooting nights of the season against the Sun, averaging 55.5% from the field and 41.7% from three-point range.
Miller emphasized how important the Sun’s defensive effort and energy were against the Wings. The ball pressure the Sun applied created just enough disruption for them to recover and play help defense. That will be a key to the Sun’s ability to disrupt the Sky’s free-flowing offense in the halfcourt.
One of the key matchups in the series will be between the Sky’s Emma Meesseman and the Sun’s Jonquel Jones. In three of their four regular-season games, the Sky limited Jones — the Sun’s leading scorer — to fewer than 20 points. They held her to fewer than 15 twice.
The Sun are the second-best team in the league — behind the Sky — at scoring inside. They average 46 points in the paint to the Sky’s 52. Whichever team can control the paint will have the edge.
The turnover battle will be another critical factor. The Sky have cut their turnovers in the playoffs to an average of 9.7, five less than they averaged during the regular seasons. They averaged 18.3 turnovers against the Sun during the regular season and still went 4-0 against them.
Forward Azura Stevens will be an X-factor, just as she was in the semifinals last season. As the first player off the Sky’s bench, Stevens was excellent against the Sun’s Brionna Jones during the regular season and was a difference-maker in the first-round series against the Liberty, specifically in Game 3.
As the Liberty tried to mount a comeback in the fourth quarter, Stevens came up with big offensive rebounds and defensive stops that contributed to the Sky’s momentum-shifting 16-0 run.
This is the Sun’s fourth consecutive semifinal appearance and the Sky’s second straight. All told, the Sky have won six games in a row between the teams, dating to the semifinals last season.
‘‘There’s not one person who is going to pick us to beat Chicago,’’ Miller said after the clinching victory against the Wings. ‘‘We’re going to go with the underdog mentality and give it our best shot.’’