Sky are a win away from WNBA Finals after 76-72 victory over Sun in Game 3
Candace Parker’s 16-point, 11-rebound double-double was the 27th of her playoff career, tying Tamika Catchings for No. 1 all time.
UNCASVILLE, Conn. — James Wade launched himself toward his bench in the -final minutes of the Sky’s Game 3 semifinals matchup against the Sun.
“Left! Left!” he yelled to his training staff gesturing to his left eye as he ran towards them.
On the court, Kahleah Copper stood at the free-throw line. She had just drawn a foul on Natisha Hiedeman, taking advantage of a mismatch off a switch but she lost her left contact in the process. She let Wade know, subtly signaling to her left eye as she walked to the stripe.
But before the Sky could get her a replacement, the official handed her the ball.
With her vision blurred, Copper sent her first attempt up — swish. She converted her second attempt, too, extending the Sky’s lead to four with 1:27 left in the game. That single moment told the entire story of the game, that the Sky had the mental toughness to outlast the Sun en route to a 76-72 victory.
“One thing we pride ourselves on is playing together through adversity,” Wade said.
Mohegan Sun Arena was under a blanket of white T-shirts when the visiting Sky walked into the arena. It was a premonition of the energy that awaited them when the ball was tipped. And just as expected, the 9,142 fans in attendance were deafening.
It made little difference to the Sky as they took a 2-1 edge going into Tuesday’s Game 4 of this best-of-five series.
According to Wade, the mental approach is what sets the really good players and teams apart from the legends and there’s a process for developing a strong mental game. It takes years, and multiple experiences both good and bad.
His team is anchored by three veterans in Candace Parker, Courtney Vandersloot and Allie Quigley. They have gone through the fire over the course of their careers to establish a different level of poise in the face of adversity. The rest of Wade’s team has benefited from their example and established their own mental grit in the process.
On Sunday, that resolute mentality was on full display.
Parker led her team for the third consecutive game, finishing with a double-double (16 points and 11 rebounds) to go with four assists, three blocks and two steals. It was her 27th career playoff double-double, tying Tamika Catchings for most in WNBA history.
Copper was right behind with 15 points and Emma Meesseman added 13, plus six rebounds, five steals and one block.
“We knew Game 3 was going to be a grind,” Parker said. “We try to evolve and adjust to the circumstance. When we’re able to do that we come out on top.”
In all of the meetings between the Sky and Sun during the 2022 regular season and postseason, the team that won the first quarter won the game, until Sunday.
The Sun won the first quarter but their lead came off a buzzer-beater from DeWanna Bonner. Other than that, it was an evenly played opening 10 minutes and remained that way throughout the rest of the game. Both teams posted nearly identical numbers. The Sun outscored the Sky 36-30 inside, went 17-for-22 from the free-throw line to the Sky’s 18-for-21 mark, and their bench had 16 points to the Sky’s 17.
Two significant differences were on the glass and in turnovers. The Sun outrebounded the Sky 46-35, but lost the turnover battle 17-9.
Bonner scored a game-high 18 points while Hiedeman and fellow guard Courtney Williams added 14 and 12, respectively. The Sky held Alyssa Thomas and Jonquel Jones to six points each.
These teams are in a championship window that appears to be closing fast.
Wade’s entire starting lineup becomes unrestricted free agents at the conclusion of this season with the exception of Copper. Curt Miller, on the other hand, will see Brionna Jones and Williams hit the unrestricted free-agent market.
The Sky are pursuing history, as the first team to win back-to-back titles in 20 years while the Sun are pursuing the history of winning their first. Wade’s team can close out the series in four games with a win Tuesday, while Miller’s need a win to force a Game 5.
As this series has proven in the first three games, the team with the most mental fortitude will be the last standing.