September 2, 2022
Chicago didn’t reinvent the wheel in Game 2, but need to keep building off of what got them here
Candace Parker: This team has an opportunity and you can't not seize it.
There’s a lot of time between playoff games to overthink and second guess the game plan.
The collective elevation in blood pressure for Skytown was on full display for 60 hours as fans and media pundits pondered how the Chicago Sky would strike back following their 68-63 loss in Game 1 to the Connecticut Sun.
After getting punched in the mouth in the opening game of the series, would James Wade consider going with the rarely utilized all-big front court? Should the coaching staff brush off the cobwebs on Dana Evans and increase her minutes? What happened to the Garrett’s Popcorn tin prominently displayed in the post-game presser after each regular season game?
Questions swirled for days but any ideas about deviating from the formula that got the Sky to the position they’re in now were silenced by the end of the first quarter. Chicago never looked back –– before or during the game –– playing their brand of basketball.
“Allie [Quigley] and I were talking about it today––it took her eight years to get to the Finals and it took me nine years,” Candace Parker said after the Sky’s 85-77 win in Game 2. “This team has an opportunity and you can’t not seize it. If we’re not going to do it, let’s not do it because they are way better than us.”
Good news for the Sky: the Sun are not “way better” than Chicago. For most of this season, Parker and Co. have proven they can be their own worst enemy in losses. When they dial up the energy on the defensive end and knock down open shots, their opponents have been left searching for answers. The onus is on them the rest of the way to put whoever is in front of them in that position.
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Chicago knew it didn’t need to reinvent the wheel in Game 2. Any team would take a playoff performance where it held its opponents to 37.3% shooting from the field, 27.1% from 3-point range and 68 points. Those subpar splits can partially be attributed to the officiating crew letting both teams pummel each other in the paint all game. But Chicago did what it needed to do defensively to win its matchup on Aug. 28.
The main difference between their defensive performances in the first two games was setting the tone from the jump. The Sun were the aggressors on that end of the floor in Game 1, but it was the Sky who took on that role in Game 2. Chicago’s aggressive hedging and trapping in the first few minutes of the game threw off Connecticut’s offensive rhythm for the rest of the contest.
The difference in energy mostly impacted Chicago’s offensive flow where it wasn’t a casualty of its own unselfishness. With three Finals MVPs and the franchise’s greatest backcourt duo on the roster, there have been times when the Sky have passed up open shots in favor of keeping the ball moving for a better opportunity. Their hesitance in making decisions throughout the night ended up costing them Game 1 of the series.
However, Chicago flipped the script in Game 2 with Courtney Vandersloot leading the charge. Vandersloot, the third all-time leader in career assists, expressed wanting to bounce back in Game 2. In the previous contest, she recorded just two assists and had none at halftime.
Vandersloot had only three games since 2017 where she recorded two or fewer assists, two of them coming in matchups where she played no more than 16:09. In Game 2, she returned to form on both ends of the floor and picked up eight assists that resulted in 20 points.
Wade’s relationship with Vandersloot goes back to their UMMC Ekaterinburg days. Both of them (along with Quigley) have been through situations like this before.
“I think the main thing was we found things in video about how she could be more aggressive,” Wade told The Next on Sept. 2. “I don’t have to motivate her. We just had to find spots on the floor where she can make the game easier for herself and her teammates.”
Chicago didn’t need to throw a Hail Mary to even this series. It has the talent and moxie to repeat as champions if they are able to make it out of the Semifinals. If the Sky bring the same energy they had in Game 2 over to Mohegan Sun, the groundwork they have laid out all season will lead them to a chance of winning another championship.