Before taking the court for Game 2 of the semifinals against the Connecticut Sun, Candace Parker and Allie Quigley took a moment to reflect on their careers.
The two veterans have 28 years of WNBA experience between them, and last year they won a title together. The difficulty of capturing a championship isn’t lost on them.
“It took her eight years to get to the Finals,” Parker said. “It took me eight years to get to the Finals. You have an opportunity, this team has an opportunity. We can’t not seize the opportunity.”
Two games into the best-of-five semifinals series, Parker has grabbed the opportunity with both hands.
In Chicago’s Game 1 loss Sunday, she was a high-voltage bright spot, finishing with 19 points, 18 rebounds, six blocks, five assists and four steals. And in Game 2 on Wednesday night, she willed the Sky to an 85-77 win with 22 points, four rebounds, four assists and three blocks.
Parker has been a key piece to the Sky’s success all season, but she’s reached a new level in the postseason. Her points per game are up from 13.2 in the regular season to 16.8 in the playoffs, and her rebounding average has increased from 8.6 to 11.4.
While Parker tries to bring the same level of intensity to every contest, she admits that the playoffs have always added an extra spark to her game.
“This time of year is my favorite,” she said Wednesday, her face lighting up. “It’s so much fun. I remember in college, coach (Pat Summitt) getting mad at me in the regular season because I just couldn’t wait to get to the NCAA Tournament. And it’s the same with the WNBA playoffs.”
What’s more, the NCAA Tournament and the WNBA Finals appear to love her back.
At Tennessee, Parker won back-to-back NCAA titles in 2007 and 2008. And though it took her eight years to reach her first WNBA Finals with the Sparks, Parker now has two championships and a Finals MVP trophy to her name.
But the 14-year pro wants at least one more, and the first step to securing a third WNBA title is getting past the Sun in the semifinals.
Game 1 proved to be a wake-up call for the Sky despite a dominant individual performance from Parker. Chicago lacked the balance it has had all season, with just three reaching double-digit scoring — Parker (19), Kahleah Copper (13) and Emma Meesseman (10).
In Game 2, Parker was a force once again, but so were the rest of her teammates. All five Sky starters finished in double figures and Chicago shot 50.8 percent from the field and 40 percent from 3-point range, a huge increase from the 35.3 percent from 2 and 26.7 percent from 3 they posted on Sunday.
“I don’t think we had the right mentality in Game 1,” Parker said. “I think we were relaxed in shootaround and in film. That whole day I didn’t think we had the right mentality, and it showed.”
On Wednesday, the Sky looked like themselves from the start. And by the end of the first quarter, they held a 10-point advantage.
They made extra passes, cut hard to the rim and found open shooters. When the Sky are playing their game, it’s a beautiful brand of basketball.
The Sun get no joy out of that beauty. It’s a cause for concern as the series heads to Connecticut for Game 3 on Sunday.
Curt Miller has preached the importance of his team creating a messy, chaotic game. To win the series, the Sun need to stop Chicago’s offensive flow, something they failed to do in Game 2.
“They were getting everything they wanted,” Sun guard Natisha Hiedeman said. “We didn’t come out with the same energy. We were stagnant a little bit.”
After Parker’s heroic effort in Game 1, the Sun put an emphasis on guarding her. But like the rest of the Sky, she got everything she wanted.
We have no words.#skytown pic.twitter.com/mj3knXWxBk— Chicago Sky (@chicagosky) September 1, 2022
We have no words.#skytown pic.twitter.com/mj3knXWxBk
And when Parker gets going, it’s bad news for opponents. That’s something Sun coach Curt Miller knows well. He was an assistant for the Sparks in 2015, a year before he became the head coach for Connecticut and six years before Parker left the team in free agency to join the Sky.
Parker was already in the prime of her career and just one season away from winning her first WNBA title, but according to Miller, the Parker he sees today at 36 is in some ways a better version than the Parker he coached at 29.
“Her fitness and strength, and the intangibles that she’s added late in her career is impressive,” he said. “She is really fit and plays with a really high motor. She’s physical. She just doesn’t take plays off anymore, and it is just impressive to watch.”
Parker recorded her 25th 20-point playoff game on Wednesday, adding another accolade to an already long list of accomplishments. In the postgame press conferences, reporters did their best to glean information about Parker’s greatness from her teammates.
“She’s had so many different great games,” Meesseman said. “And even if she’s having less stats, she is still doing so many great things on the court, like being a great leader. So, I don’t think there are enough words.”
Then, Meesseman cracked a smile: “I think that’s your job,” she said to reporters, “To find the words.”
But what can you write that Parker hasn’t already said on the court?
Eden Laase is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @eden_laase.