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Chicago Sky brace for uncertain offseason after devastating collapse

(Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

Curt Miller wants two things to be known:

  1. Candace Parker is a great basketball player.
  2. The Sun’s post trio of Alyssa Thomas, Jonquel Jones and Brionna Jones have knocked her out of the playoffs three out of the last four postseasons.

“I want to go on the record about that,” he said after his team’s Game 5 comeback win over the Sky on Thursday night to secure a WNBA Finals bid.

As for Parker, she has two statements of her own:

  1. The Sky hang championship banners, not conference banners.
  2. The Sun’s defense didn’t cause the loss — the Sky’s mistakes did.

“We have a standard to uphold,” Parker said in response. “We won a championship last year. We don’t hang conference banners. Defensively, yeah, they did a great job, they won the series. But if it’s anything, it’s us. It’s our aggression that changed things.”

Whether it was the Sun’s defense or the Sky’s collapse, there was a clear shift in the fourth quarter as the Sun advanced to their first Finals since 2019 with a 72-63 victory at Wintrust Arena.

The Sun entered the final period down 58-48 before outscoring the Sky 24-5 in the fourth quarter to take the lead.

At the 7:20 mark, Emma Meesseman knocked down a 3-point jumper, and Kahleah Copper scored two more points with 4:46 left in the game. That was the last time the Sky scored, as they ended the contest with eight missed field goals, two of which were blocked shots.

“It’s not intentional, but maybe we stopped attacking,” Courtney Vandersloot said. “Maybe we were scared to lose, rather than trying to win. I feel like we got good looks. we just didn’t knock them down.”

The Sky went 2-for-15 from the field to end the contest. During the fourth quarter, Allie Quigley was 0-for-5, Meesseman was 1-for-4, Copper was 1-for-3, Vandersloot was 1-for-2, and Rebekah Garder was 0-for-1. In that stretch, the usually poised Vandersloot also committed three turnovers and Azurá Stevens committed one.

“We just couldn’t get a basket,” coach James Wade said. “I thought there were a couple of layups that we didn’t make, but other than that, it was tough for us to navigate around them and get to the lane.”

Only four of Chicago’s 15 shots in the fourth quarter came in the paint, with one make — a driving layup from Copper.

Meanwhile, absent from the fourth-quarter shot chart was Parker, whose last field-goal attempt came with 3:42 left in the third quarter when her team led by 12 points. Her last make, a 3-pointer assisted by Copper, came 32 seconds earlier.

Overall, Parker attempted just seven shots in the game, finishing with seven points and nine rebounds. Prior to Thursday’s contest, Parker had averaged 18.4 points per game against the Sun this season.

The Sun threw a three-player attack at her defensively, with Thomas, Jonquel Jones and Brionna Jones all taking their turn at the two-time WNBA MVP. Connecticut placed a clear emphasis on stopping Parker from even getting the ball, as evidenced by her few shot attempts.

“I have three All-Star post players,” Miller said. “I have that luxury. It’s not always easy to figure out how to keep them all on the floor together, but they get to practice against each other every day. So when we get an opportunity to practice, there are great battles going on amongst them.”

But it wasn’t just the post defense that propelled the Sun to a win. In the fourth quarter, their entire unit stepped up, tapping into newfound energy.

Miller has said many times during the postseason that his team needs to make things messy to win, and Connecticut’s brand of chaos defined the fourth quarter.

As the Sun surged, the offensive flow the Sky have become known for slipped away.

“I think slowly but surely, we stopped playing beautiful basketball,” Parker said. “And I’m not taking any credit away from what Connecticut did or didn’t do, but I think that we are at a level where we are passing and moving and cutting for each other, and screening for each other and making plays for each other. We were at that level this season, and we stopped doing that.”

Connecticut closed out the game on an 18-0 run, the longest in WNBA playoff history. The five points Chicago scored were also the fewest ever by a team in a series-deciding playoff game.

DeWanna Bonner was a bright spot for the Sun throughout the semifinals, finishing with 15 points Thursday night. (Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

The offensive breakdown to end the game was head-scratching to say the least, especially when you consider the success of the Sky’s attack throughout the season.

Chicago averaged 86.3 points per game this season, second in the WNBA after the Las Vegas Aces. Their 63 points on Thursday marked their lowest total of the season. They also scored just 63 points in their loss to the Sun in Game 1 of the semifinals. Prior to that contest, Chicago’s season-low point total was 71 in a May 18 loss to Seattle.

“This is tough,” Wade said. “This is probably one of the biggest disappointments I’ve had professionally. The players gave it everything this year. They did everything, and I thought they deserved a little bit more.”

With the loss, Chicago ended its bid to be the first team to win back-to-back championships since the Los Angeles Sparks in 2001 and 2002.

Now, the Sky head into an offseason with much uncertainty about their future. Of their starting five, only Kahleah Copper is under contract for the 2023 season. Parker, Quigley, Vandersloot, Meesseman and Stevens are all unrestricted free agents.

After signing with her hometown team and winning a championship last season, the 36-year-old Parker said Thursday that she is undecided about retirement but will know it’s time to hang it up when she’s “not able to go out and play and be the Candace that I want to be.”

With Thursday’s game serving as an anomaly from the rest of Parker’s playoff performances, the Sky can hope that time hasn’t come yet.

“I thought they gave it as much as we could,” Wade said. “And we just came up short.”

Eden Laase is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @eden_laase.