WNBA playoffs 2022 – Answering the biggest questions for the Chicago Sky-Connecticut Sun semifinals

CHICAGO — The Connecticut Sun, the No. 3 seed, made a statement Sunday with a 68-63 win in Game 1 over No. 2 Chicago Sky at Wintrust Arena. It didn’t matter that Sky are the defending champions and had won seven of their last eight matchups against Connecticut, including last season’s semifinals. The Sun set the tone in Chicago from the start, thriving in a physical, sluggish game that worked largely in their favour.

But Heaven is not panicking. Chicago bounced back from a loss at home in Game 1 to the New York Liberty in the first round to easily win the next two matchups and advance to the semifinals. And as a team that went through two single-elimination games last season en route to winning a WNBA title, James Wade’s team knows how to play their best basketball when their backs are against the wall.

At stake: Chicago could become the first WNBA team to repeat champions since the 2001-2002 Los Angeles Sparks, all with Candace Parker, Courtney Vandersloot, Emma Meesseman, Allie Quigley and Azurá Stevens on the verge of becoming unrestricted free agents will.

Anyway, Wednesday’s Game 2 (8 p.m. ET, ESPN2) is shaping up to be another intriguing fight in a hard-fought series – regular-season games were decided by an average margin of 4.5 points — moving to Connecticut for games 3 and possibly 4.

Here are five questions that will determine Wednesday’s outcome — and the rest of the series.

How does the sun bring Jonquel Jones into the game more offensively?

It is somewhat notable that Sun won Game 1 with Jones making just eight shots from the field (5-for-8, 12 points). In truth, Connecticut hasn’t consistently used the reigning MVP of the WNBA as an offensive focal point: Jones’ 10.4 field goal attempts per game ranks third on the team, behind Courtney Williams (11.4), DeWanna Bonner (10.8 ) and alongside Alyssa Thomas. But there’s no doubt the Sun will need Jones to be effective offensively if they are to lift their first championship trophy.

Chicago’s center defenses — particularly the work of Meesseman, WNBA All-Defensive Team youngster Parker and other defenders who helped plug the paint — made it really difficult for Jones to get the ball inside in Game 1. And even when Jones was on the sidelines, she wasn’t always involved in the storyline. In the eyes of coach Curt Miller, Sun’s intermittent lack of movement only made things more difficult.

If Sky continues to double down on the Joneses – Jonquel and teammate Brionna Jones – Miller will want to see more action off the ball to create a better look for his guards, which in turn could impact the effectiveness of Chicago’s doubles teams at the Sun Bigs.

“I think we’ve made simple adjustments to our offense that don’t allow Chicago to just sit around and help,” Jonquel Jones said Tuesday. “Your offense doesn’t stop moving. We’ve implemented the same style for the series and understand that when you’re playing against a good defensive team, you have to keep it moving.”

So does this series also depend on Connecticut’s Guard game?

Connecticut’s backcourt did well in Game 1 (11) at limiting turnovers, but the Sun need more of this corps offensively, especially given the many opportunities the guards have had to deal with so much of Chicago’s defensive attention that dedicated to the Joneses to score.

Miller admitted Chicago’s plan “almost worked because we didn’t have great efficiency across the board” — Williams finished 3-on-12, Bonner 4-on-16 and Natisha Hiedeman 2-on-6. The Sun isn’t a team that lives or dies on the 3, but only making 3 out of 13 from the arc didn’t do them any favors either.

Bonner and Hiedeman had clutch moments in the Dallas series while Williams (5.8 PPG on 28.9% shooting in the playoffs) struggled. Miller went big with a lineup from the Joneses, Thomas, Bonner and Hiedeman to end Game 1, but he wasn’t shy about noting that his guards still need to get up.

“We know that to be able to win big games, we have to have good guard efficiency and if we’re not, we have to win some things on the glass,” Miller said. “But I’m confident our guards can play. We have to win this series.”

Besides Candace Parker, who else needs to get up for heaven?

It’s easy for Parker’s historic exploits — 19 points, 18 rebounds, five assists, four steals and six blocks — to hide such little work offensively from other Sky players. Rarely have the VanderQuigs (husband and backcourt pair Courtney Vandersloot and Allie Quigley) had such a subdued impact as they did on Sunday, when they hit 12 points in 5-for-18 shooting (1-for-9-of-3) and three assists. Reigning Finals MVP Kahleah Copper got off to a hot start with nine points in the first quarter but was reluctant the rest of the way, scoring four goals in the last three quarters. Meesseman has struggled offensively for most of the postseason, averaging an 8.5 PPG, and while she was in double digits on Sunday with 10 points, she did so fairly inefficiently (11 field goal attempts).

Even the sunbed – not exactly known for its depth outside of Brionna Jones – surpassed the normally impressive sky reserves.

The Sky are known as an offensively balanced team that can hurt you in a number of ways, but Copper was key to guiding them to a championship last year and may be again this year. Copper had a stellar first round averaging 18.7 points against the Liberty, and Connecticut doesn’t forget their stellar play in the semifinals last year when they scored 26 and 18 in Games 3 and 4, respectively. One way to get them more involved is to push them and find them in transition, which Sky wasn’t as successful in Game 1 as they would have liked.

How can the sky counteract the sun’s aggressive defenses?

In the regular season, Chicago had some great first quarters against Connecticut, posting 27, 31, and 32 in previous matchups. But in Game 1, the Sun came with defensive energy and aggression from the start, and the Sky was slow to respond, holding on to a season-low with 63 points on 35.3% shooting. Defense is the Sun’s calling card, but Heaven has also identified areas where they could have eased things up: missing workable shots or not even looking at the basket when they should have, something that matters to keep the defense honest.

But the bigger problem at hand? The Sky – who have had a smooth-running offense for most of this summer and ranked first in the league for assists and field goal percentage – felt they needed better ball and player movement to beat the Sun -Move defense.

“I think we were a little surprised by the coverage. I really don’t think we were prepared for that,” Stevens said. “I think we dribbled a little too much and that played in their favor because they typed a lot, they got their hands on a lot of balls and the best way to counter that is just to move them .”

The Sun readily admitted that they wanted to make the game “messy,” a slow and physical drudgery — or as Quigley put it, a “boring game.” How can the Sky counter?

“The way we’ve been successful against them before is cutting, moving. We were just stagnant,” Stevens said. “So I think we just have to use our quickness, we have to move the ball more, our posts have to cut more and we’ve seen with the guards at times that we have some nice backdoor plays. Here’s how we go about beating them. We can’t fight with them. That’s just not how our team is built. “

How else does Chicago even work on the show?

The Sky was generally happy with their defense in Game 1 – The Sun’s 68 points was a season low in their series against Chicago and their second-lowest offensive performance of the summer, including the regular season. Repeating this effort, if not building on it, is critical for Heaven to overcome this 1-0 deficit. Increasing defensive pressure would also help fuel their own offense as the Sun beat Sky in Game 1 18-6 in the transition area. Chicago not only wants to get out there and run more, but stopping the sun from being so efficient in the same category would only improve their chances.

Both teams were unusually inefficient in the suit, shooting about 43% on tries down the lane. Chicago hopes those numbers return to normal as their 42-point average in the paint led the league all season.

The Sun expects Chicago to burst out of a cannon to start Game 2, much like how it raced against the Liberty 31-10 in the first quarter of the last round. What might matter most is which team enforces their playstyle first and most effectively. And after Game 1, heaven wants to dictate that from the jump.

“You just have to get your way and make the game play the way you want it to play,” Quigley said. “It’s not the game we like to play. I think in order for them to win they have to play that kind of game. So we just have to impose our will and our style on them by defending and just us being on offense.”

https://www.espn.com/wnba/story/_/id/34491841/wnba-playoffs-2022-answering-biggest-questions-chicago-sky-connecticut-sun-semifinals WNBA playoffs 2022 – Answering the biggest questions for the Chicago Sky-Connecticut Sun semifinals

Emma Bowman

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