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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.

Esme Morgan Signs With Washington Spirit

Esme Morgan of England inspects the pitch prior to the UEFA Women's EURO 2025 qualifying match between England and France
The England national will join the Spirit in DC on July 15th. (Naomi Baker - The FA/The FA via Getty Images)

English defender Esme Morgan has signed with the Washington Spirit, the club announced Thursday. 

Morgan had been with WSL side Manchester City since 2017, with one year remaining on her contract. She’ll now make a move to the NWSL, with City receiving a fee for the move. 

"I wanted to join the Spirit because they have the ambition and tools to be the best team in the NWSL, and trying to achieve that will be a great but enjoyable challenge," Morgan said in a club statement.

"On an individual level too, the opportunity to work under Jonatan [Giráldez], one of the world's best coaches, is really exciting and I look forward to learning from him and pushing myself to become the best player I can be, hopefully helping the team to success."

According to ESPN, Morgan’s lack of playing time under City manager Gareth Taylor played a key role in her decision to leave the league championship runners-up. She’ll join the Spirit in Washington, DC on July 15th, but won’t be able to begin play until August. 

Spirit president Mark Krikorian called Morgan an "exceptional talent" and added that the club is "thrilled" to add her to the roster.

"I think she’s pretty talented," Giraldez told reporters on Friday. "A young player with a great future, but with experience already in a great league and with the national team. She’s been surrounded by great players and also great coaches, so she can give us experience."

Ledecky Goes for 4 at Olympic Swimming Trials

Swimmer katie ledecky swimming at Toyota US Open
Decorated swimmer Katie Ledecky is aiming to make her fourth-straight Olympic squad. (Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images)

The US Olympic Swimming Trials begin this weekend, running from June 15th through June 23rd in Indianapolis, with Katie Ledecky eyeing her fourth-straight Summer Games.

While traditionally held in Omaha, Indiana's Lucas Oil Stadium, home of the NFL's Indianapolis Colts, has been fitted with a 50-meter pool to host the meet that will determine the 2024 Paris Olympics roster.

All eyes will be on seven-time Olympic gold medalist Katie Ledecky, who will be competing in the 200-meter, 400-meter, 800-meter, and 1500-meter freestyle — all events in which she’s been an Olympic champion. 

Rival Ariarne Titmus had her trials last week, breaking the world record in the 200-meter freestyle. Ledecky’s 200 is intended to qualify her for the Olympic relay. Meanwhile stateside, Katie Grimes stands to be a challenger in the 1500-meter freestyle has already qualified for the Paris Olympics in the 10km open water event.

Other competitors of note include 47-year-old Gabrielle Rose, who stands to become the oldest US Swimming Olympic qualifier in the 100-meter and 200-meter breaststroke.

Additionally, Kate Douglass — an NCAA and World Champion — is a favorite to make her first Olympic team in the 200-meter IM and 200-meter breaststroke. Simone Manuel, an Olympic champion in the 100-meter freestyle, is also looking to make her third-straight Olympics.

Where to watch: The Trials will be streaming all week on Peacock, with later qualifying heats airing live on USA Network and event finals airing in primetime on NBC.

Orlando and Kansas City Shoot for 13 in NWSL Weekend Action

NWSL's T. Chawinga #6 of the Kansas City Current passes the ball during the first half of their game against the Utah Royals FC
The Kansas City Current hopes to extend its NWSL unbeaten streak to 13 with a win over Chicago. (Chris Gardner/Getty Images)

The 13th match weekend is fast approaching in the NWSL, with two season-long unbeaten streaks on the line.

League-leaders Kansas City and Orlando will attempt to survive the weekend with their unbeaten runs intact, as the Current host Chicago on Friday and the Pride travel to North Carolina for Saturday's match.

But while Kansas City and Orlando have been the gold standard this year, they're still a number of wins away from tying Washington's record for longest unbeaten streak in a single NWSL season. In 2021, the Spirit went 20 games without a loss en route to the club's first NWSL championship.

Both Gotham and Louisville are carrying momentum into their matchup on Saturday. Louisville is unbeaten in three games, and they’re looking to finally leapfrog Chicago and claim sixth place in the league standings. Gotham, on a seven-game unbeaten run, is into fifth place.

Portland and Seattle will face off in the Cascadia Clash this weekend, with Golden Boot contender Sophia Smith absent, as the decorated forward was shown a red card last weekend for time-wasting on the bench.

The Reign could use a win against their long-time rivals, as a difficult start has 13th-place Seattle registering only two wins amid nine losses so far this season.

Elsewhere in the league, 2024 expansion teams Bay FC and Utah meet for the first time this weekend, as both look to rise from the bottom half of the standings. And Washington will ride a four-game winning streak into Saturday's game against a San Diego side that's earned two hard-fought draws in recent weeks.

Watch more: "Sophia Smith is INNOCENT!" on The Late Sub with Claire Watkins

WNBA All-Star Voting Starts on June 13th

Phoenix Mercury mascot Scorch waving a 2024 WNBA All-Star flag at a 2023 home game.
Phoenix Mercury will host the 20th-annual All-Star Game on July 20th, 2024. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Voting for the 2024 AT&T WNBA All-Star Game opened at 2 PM ET today and runs through June 29th.

All active WNBA players are eligible to make the All-Star Game, set for July 20th in Phoenix. Unlike previous formats that featured two voted-in All-Star squads, this year’s contest pits a single All-Star team against the already-decided Olympic-bound USA Women’s National Team.

Fans can submit a daily ballot nominating up to 10 athletes via or the WNBA App.

Fan-submitted ballots account for 50% of vote, with the other 50% split equally between current WNBA players and members of the media. The top 10 athletes will automatically make the All-Star Game, with league coaches then voting from a pool of the next 36 to complete Team WNBA’s 12-player roster. The final lineup will be announced on July 2nd.

This year's All-Star Game format presents an opportunity for fans to vote for players they might consider Olympic snubs. Indiana rookie Caitlin Clark and Dallas’s Arike Ogunbawole seem like shoo-ins given the discussion surrounding their Olympic omissions, while Connecticut stars Brionna Jones and DeWanna Bonner are also expected to snag All-Star nods.

And after a career-high 20-point, 10-rebound double-double in last night’s 83-75 loss to the Sun, Chicago rookie Angel Reese could also secure a spot.

Regardless, it won't necessarily be smooth sailing for Team USA, as history has tended to favor the underdog. 

The first USA vs. All-Stars matchup took place in 2021, with the league’s squad humbling the Tokyo Olympians 93-85. With 26 points, Ogunbawole was named All-Star Game MVP after barely missing the Olympic cut. Could she and Clark turn the tables on Team USA this year?

Watch more: "Were Caitlin Clark and Arike Ogunbowale snubbed?" by Expert Adjacent

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