Connecticut Sun oust defending champ Chicago Sky in 5 games to reach WNBA Finals

CHICAGO — No WNBA team has repeated as champions since the Los Angeles Sparks made it in 2001-02, and the No. 3 seed Connecticut Sun made sure to end the cold streak in historic fashion Thursday night with a 22: 2 quarters extended. Quarter run to defeat No. 2 seed and defending champion Chicago Sky with a 72-63 victory in a winner-take-all Game 5 at Wintrust Arena.

Connecticut will take on the No. 1-seeded Las Vegas Aces in the best-of-five WNBA Finals, with Game 1 on Sunday at 3:00 p.m. ET on ABC. Both teams are seeking their first WNBA titles, ensuring there is a new champion for the third time in four seasons. The Aces started out as -250 favorites in the Finals, according to Caesars Sportsbook.

The Sky controlled much of Thursday night’s game, beating the Sun by 18 points in the second and third quarters, holding Connecticut to just eight points in the third and leading by as much as 11 points at 7-20 in the game.

But the Sun roared back and asserted its will at both ends, finishing the game on an 18-0 run to shock the Sky and Wintrust crowd. Chicago, usually known for their offensive flow and balanced scoring chances, remained scoreless in the final 4:46 of the game.

“Maybe we stopped attacking and were afraid of losing instead of trying to win,” Chicago’s Courtney Vandersloot said of the dramatic transition from the third quarter to the fourth quarter.

DeWanna Bonner and-1 with a 3:46 lead finally shifted the momentum in Sun’s favor, cutting Sky’s lead to seven and leading to a heated exchange with Chicago’s Kahleah Copper – who had been called out for a technical foul earlier in the first quarter , but this time avoided earning a second.

Bonner converted the following free throw, and the sun rolled on from there. Jonquel Jones’ And-1 at the 2:00 mark allowed them to take the lead for the first time since the second quarter.

“I think that was our moment to calm down a bit,” said Bonner. “We were cheered on. … We looked up when that happened, and it was like, ‘There’s a lot of time left.’ That’s all the fire we needed.”

The Sun’s 18-0 run is the longest finish of a WNBA playoff game in league history, according to ESPN Stats & Information Research. The Sky was held to five points in the final frame, the fewest in the fourth quarter of a winner-take-all game in WNBA history and the second fewest in a playoff game.

“I think this is a learning experience,” said two-time league MVP and WNBA champion Candace Parker. “We can’t take our foot off the gas, and I think we did a little bit.”

Sky manager James Wade added: “It’s probably one of the biggest disappointments I’ve had professionally. The players have given everything and done everything this year. I thought they deserved a little more. … I felt like I could have done better getting them a bucket, but I just couldn’t get them a bucket.”

Connecticut won despite 23 turnovers, the most by any team in a WNBA playoff win. Eight of them came in the third quarter, which was the number of points the Sun scored in that frame.

“I know people want to try and tag that group: ‘If it’s easy, Connecticut is really special. When it’s tough, can Connecticut win the tough?’ and tonight we won the hard,” said Sun coach Curt Miller. “We had our backs to the wall. There were probably a couple of plays before the game broke up and they just refused to give up. They had that one Courage and this determination, that’s what we’re built on.”

Bonner and Jones led the Sun by 15 points each, though every Connecticut starter was in double digits. Copper’s 22 led the sky.

The Sun, who made their fourth consecutive semifinals and lead the WNBA with most non-title playoff wins (36), are advancing to their first WNBA Finals since 2019, when they lost to the Washington Mystics in five games. They became the third WNBA team to ever knock out of the playoffs a team that swept them (4-0) in the regular season, and they did so by taking revenge on the same team that defeated them in the semifinals last year eliminated from the playoffs.

Connecticut’s resurgence over the past four years has not been without its difficulties. Jones, the 2021 league MVP, has pulled out of the 2020 bubble season due to COVID-19 concerns, and franchise star Alyssa Thomas missed most of the 2021 regular season with a torn Achilles tendon and returned for the playoffs, but without enough time for the team to fully discover its identity with their backs in the herd. Then longtime point guard Jasmine Thomas tore her cruciate ligament in late May, and newcomer Bria Hartley suffered the same injury in July, just three games into her short-lived Connecticut career.

The Sun faced more adversity in the postseason, surviving a first-round elimination game in Dallas and then two more against Chicago after a tough four-point loss in Game 3 at their home court, in which the team lost less than 40 % shot the color. However, there were signs of life after an emphatic 104-80 win in Game 4 that saw their offense look as good as they have all postseason.

“We really wanted that. We come here every year and Chicago kicks our ass,” Bonner said. “We’ve lost to them about seven times in a row like we can’t figure it out. And I think in Game 4 we figured it out and came in with a little more confidence.”

Even after a disastrous third-quarter Thursday that saw them appear to cede control to hometown Sky, The Sun wasn’t quite ready to wrap up their season.

“We’re not folding anymore,” said The Sun’s Natisha Hiedeman. “As you have seen [after] In the third quarter we immediately picked up again and won the game and now we’re going to the championship. work not done yet.”

Chicago, meanwhile, faces an uncertain feature. Parker and sharpshooter Allie Quigley (both 36 and upcoming free agents) could decide to retire, and three other key contributors – Vandersloot, Emma Meesseman and Azurá Stevens – will also have their contracts expiring after this season.

“Like every season, I’m going to go back and reevaluate my ability to continue playing at the level I’m holding on to,” Parker said. “And I think the most important thing is that I never want to cheat the game. I will not cheat the game. So if I’m not able to go out and play and be the candace I want to be, I won’t play.”

Wade added: “I was proud of how we were able to defend the title. I thought we defended the title with grace and poise, and I thought we were a team that represented the WNBA well. It’s a hard pill to swallow but it’s one of the funnest seasons I’ve ever had because of the players in that dressing room.”

https://www.espn.com/wnba/story/_/id/34552948/connecticut-sun-oust-defending-champ-chicago-sky-5-games-reach-wnba-finals Connecticut Sun oust defending champ Chicago Sky in 5 games to reach WNBA Finals

Emma Bowman

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