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‘It’s just a feeling’: Chicago Sky ride team chemistry to brink of WNBA championship

(Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images)

CHICAGO — When Candace Parker signed with the Chicago Sky before the season, it seemed like a team with so much talent already had found its missing piece. In Game 1 of the WNBA Finals, Parker was just that, leaning into her playoff experience to guide the Sky to a comeback win over the Phoenix Mercury on the road.

Back in Chicago on Friday night for Game 3, with the series tied 1-1, Parker again rose to the occasion, scoring 13 points in front of a sold-out arena and many family and friends. But it was the Sky’s role players, the ones who’ve watched and learned from Parker and their veteran leaders all season, who helped close out Chicago’s 86-50 victory, the most lopsided in WNBA Finals history.

The way the Sky demolished the Mercury, with every player getting on the scoresheet to bring this team within one win of the WNBA championship, was fitting for a group that prides itself on its chemistry.

“It just feels like we’ve all known each other and been around each other forever — some of us have been for five, six years, but even Candace and the younger players,” Allie Quigley said earlier this week. “It’s just a feeling. It’s hard to describe. And we’re just kind of latching onto it and trying to make the most of this.”

Parker has talked repeatedly about her teammates’ ability to step up in moments when they’re needed. She and Quigley credited that to the adversity they faced during the regular season, when younger players were thrust into larger roles because of injuries.

Dana Evans has served as the Sky’s backup point guard throughout the playoffs. Before Friday night, she averaged just under seven minutes per game, mostly filling in when Courtney Vandersloot needed a breather.

When coach James Wade turned to his second unit late in the third quarter and into the fourth, with the Sky leading the Mercury by 24 points, Evans stepped up. The rookie has been observing Vandersloot and Parker while waiting in the wings, and late in the game Friday she drained three 3-pointers in 48.4 seconds, outscoring both Diana Taurasi and Skylar Diggins-Smith on the night.

“Candace talks to me a lot and tells me about some experiences she had as a rookie where it wasn’t always great, which sometimes is hard to listen to with Candace because you’re like, ‘You were a Rookie of the Year and MVP.’ So it’s like, what did you go through?” Evans said with a laugh during a practice in Phoenix.

“She has a really high IQ, so I try to listen to her when she’s talking about scouts and looking at other people’s strengths and taking them away.”

Even Ruthy Hebard, who played a crucial role for the Sky in June when they followed a 2-7 start with a seven-game winning streak, made the most of her first minutes in the Finals, going 2-for-2 from the field.

“Me and Dana talk about it sometimes, like we’re really teammates with Candace Parker and Sloot and Kah[leah] Copper,” Hebard said. “They’re amazing players and they’re gonna go down in history, and we get to be a part of that. It’s really special.”

Wade spoke about the importance of resting his starters after the game, especially players like Copper who out-ran the Mercury most of the night for a game-high 22 points. The Sky have less than 48 hours to recover and prepare for Sunday’s Game 4, when they can clinch the series and win the first title in franchise history on their home court.

“This is a dream come true if you can get the starters rest, and knowing they’ll have their legs, no excuses to not have their legs on Sunday,” Wade said. “We were pretty happy about that.”

No Chicago bench player needed their performance Friday more than Diamond DeShields did. The fourth-year Sky guard and former All-Star has been through steep ups and downs this season, and acknowledged after the game that she’s had to lean on her teammates through the adversity.

With 11 points, five rebounds and five steals in front of a fan base that’s rallied around her, DeShields was asked afterwards to put this moment into context. She briefly reflected on her own journey with the Sky organization before turning her attention outward.

“I remember when James got here and just talking to him about what we wanted to accomplish,” DeShields said. “Having the players that we had, obviously having Candace here now, it would be an incredible accomplishment, not only just because we won but because of who we could do it with. This group is really special.”

Hannah Withiam is the Managing Editor at Just Women’s Sports. She previously served as an editor at The Athletic and a reporter at the New York Post. Follow her on Twitter @HannahWithiam.