Candace Parker paced the Chicago Sky with a team-high 22 points in their Game 1 win of the WNBA semifinals Tuesday night. She made defensive stops and delivered clutch buckets as the Sky battled the No. 1 Sun through double overtime and pulled away with a 101-95 victory in Connecticut.
Parker’s biggest contributions of the night, however, came without the basketball in her hands. In every huddle and during every timeout, the Sky superstar was the most visibly animated, holding her teammates accountable to their roles and lifting them up with her energy.
The forward demonstrated that same leadership less than a minute into Tuesday’s semifinal postgame press conference when Chicago teammate Courtney Vandersloot tried to downplay her triple-double to the media.
Parker immediately chimed in, “I think Sloot’s humble. It’s remarkable for her to do what she did, play the minutes that she did, defend, rebound, come down and facilitate under pressure.”
Later, the former WNBA champion praised the “unbelievable” performance of Chicago’s bench players, who combined for 27 points and 13 rebounds.
Parker, in her first season with Chicago, made it clear Tuesday night that she takes every opportunity to boost her teammates’ confidence in themselves and in each other. Her leadership, combined with her on-court talent, is what the Sky need as they look to upset the Sun and reach their first WNBA Finals since 2014.
On the ESPN broadcast Tuesday night, the commentators mentioned a comment Sky coach James Wade made ahead of the game. He said that, before Parker signed with the team in the offseason, Chicago was “knocking at the screen door.”
Now, they’re knocking at the door.
“We expect her to be that leader that helps us get through certain things,” Wade said after the game. “We appreciate everything she brings to our team, and so we just have to make sure everybody’s ready to respond in those situations.”
After 13 seasons with the Los Angeles Sparks, who selected her first overall in the 2008 draft, Parker used her unrestricted free agency to sign with her hometown team in January. Even then, she talked about playing alongside Vandersloot and Allie Quigley and raising the bar for the 2021 postseason.
“When I signed here, we all talked about being in this situation, being in this position,” Parker said. “Of course, that’s why I came here — to play with one of the best point guards in the world and one of the best shooters in the world. I think collectively as our group, the expectation was to be where we’re at right now.”
Parker played 39 minutes in Game 1 of the Sky’s best-of-five series against Connecticut. The 35-year-old added five rebounds and six assists to her 22 points while making key plays down the stretch.
That crossover tho. 🥶@Candace_Parker | #skytown pic.twitter.com/HR3ZHrWQKG— Chicago Sky (@chicagosky) September 29, 2021
That crossover tho. 🥶@Candace_Parker | #skytown pic.twitter.com/HR3ZHrWQKG
“I thought she battled and was able to make key stops when we needed,” Wade said.
To make “key stops” against the Sun, the best defensive team in the league, is no easy feat. They also swept three major league awards before the game Tuesday, with Jonquel Jones winning MVP, Brionna Jones earning the Most Improved Player award and Curt Miller being named Coach of the Year.
None of that intimidated the Sky, who stayed close to the Sun all game before breaking away in the second overtime period.
In order to win two more games against the No. 1 team in the league and advance to the Finals, Chicago will have to lean on its strengths — and its leader. Parker is ready to guide her team through the challenge.
“I always like to keep legacies alive, and in Kobe Bryant’s words, ‘Job not finished,’ like the job’s not done,” Parker said. “I think obviously we’re going to be happy tonight, but tomorrow it’s back to business.”