Sky a no-show as fiery Sun set the table for a tense Game 5. Is this a rivalry? It better be.
One must assume Candace Parker and Co. are as ticked off as they’ve been at any point since Day 1 of training camp.
Rivalry? What rivalry?
OK, so the Sun coldly booted the Sky from the WNBA postseason bubble in 2020. Sure, so the Sky returned the favor by slicing and dicing the No. 1-seeded Sun a year later en route to a championship.
Fair enough, so this year’s semifinals three-match between the teams has been a renewal of acquaintances without the pleasantries, a gathering of colleagues as warm and fuzzy as an emergency vote on the Senate floor, and at times less basketball than steel-cage match.
But a rivalry? Even after the defending champs forgot to show up for Game 4 and were torched for it 104-80 by the fiery Sun at Mohegan Sun Arena? Apparently not.
At least, if this is a rivalry worth a damn, the WNBA and the media who cover it sure don’t seem to know it. That’s what Sky coach and general manager James Wade contended before Tuesday’s tipoff, anyway.
“They’re not talking about our series too much,” Wade said. “They’re talking about the [other one].”
Then Wade — describing the star-studded series between the No. 1-seeded Aces and the No. 4-seeded Storm (won by Las Vegas on Tuesday) — cranked the sarcasm dial up to 11.
Who’s overlooking this Sky-Sun series again?
“The world,” he said. “It’s just what it is. They have two or three or four, five or six marquee players that are probably the best six players in the world right now,” he said. “We don’t have any on this end, on this side of the coast.”
Wow — A’ja Wilson, Breanna Stewart, Kelsey Plum, Jewell Loyd, Chelsea Gray, Tina Charles. The list of stellar Aces and Storm does just go on. And that’s without the retiring Sue Bird.
“I have to live in you guys’ reality, I guess,” Wade said. “But, in actuality, you guys are living in mine; you just don’t know it yet. But it’s just what it is. I don’t really give a [expletive]. I just try to win games.”
Wade and his team can try again Thursday night at Wintrust Arena in a must-win Game 5 with a trip to the finals on the line.
And if the Sky are going to have a chance to repeat as champs, they’ll have to solve the energetic, physical puzzle presented by a Sun squad that, truth be told, doesn’t have to bow to anybody — not the Sky, nor the combatants in the other semi — when it comes to talent. Jonquel Jones was the 2021 league MVP. Alyssa Thomas is a runaway train going full speed from the opening tip. Long, versatile DeWanna Bonner will shoot now and ask questions later. And they have plenty of help.
Of course, the Sky quickly stack up, too, even if Candace Parker didn’t bring the all-time greatness — or even very goodness — in Game 4. Instead, she didn’t score until the final minute of the second quarter, threw away a pass that went the other way for a layup to end the half, and then appeared demoralized or disinterested, maybe both, in an awful sequence to close the third quarter. After a Bonner three from the corner, Parker’s lazy inbounds pass was stolen by Odyssey Sims, who banked a hanging shot over Parker — not exactly defending with gusto — at the buzzer.
It wasn’t a good look. Then again, nothing looks good when the other team scores 22 of the game’s first 28 points before breaking a sweat. Nothing looks good when defense is nothing more than a whispered rumor at one end of the floor from start to finish.
“It doesn’t matter where we play, honestly,” Wade said after it was over. “I just want us to play to our level and not down a level like we did.”
But why not the Sky in Game 5? As terrible as they were on one night, they can be even greater on another. Parker, Courtney Vandersloot, Kahleah Copper, Emma Meesseman — these are championship players. These are All-Stars. These are competitors who are, one must assume, as ticked off as they’ve been at any point since beginning this collaboration on Day 1 of training camp.
“At the end of the day,” Wade said, “we have to put our will into the game and let it turn the way we want to turn it.”
The Sun had a party in Game 4 and celebrated in the Sky’s faces. You know what you call that, especially after all the big games these teams have played against each other the last few years?
A rivalry. And a growing one.