Only three on the Chicago Sky roster had been to the WNBA Finals entering Game 1 Sunday, and just one – Candace Parker – had ever hoisted the trophy. And for a quarter and a half, the Sky looked like the younger team as the veteran-laden Phoenix Mercury padded their lead to as much as 9 in both the first and second periods.
But a driving layup and subsequent rebound by Courtney Vandersloot with 8:41 until halftime ignited Chicago to a 17-0 run to close the quarter. They took the lead for good on another Vandersloot bucket – one of her signature pull-ups – at 3:14, and never looked back. They dominated Phoenix the rest of the way to a 91-77 win to start the series.
Parker’s teammates said it was her cool-headedness that got them to settle down and step up their defense.
“I think everybody had Finals game, first game jitters, except for Candace, which is very important when she plays a major key,” said forward Kahleah Copper, who had 21 points and 10 rebounds. “She was that calmness for us. She was telling us, even (Coach) James (Wade), just telling everybody like just calm down, we’re fine. We’re in a good place, like we’re going to be fine.”
Six Chicago players scored in double figures in the win, including Allie Quigley, who was on the roster in 2014 when the team played the Mercury in the Finals and lost, with Vandersloot. Quigley had 18 points, Parker, 16, and Vandersloot had 12 points, 11 assists and no turnovers – a league first.
The Sky used their depth to outrun Phoenix and limit their scoring to 43 percent, while shooting 53 percent.
“We’ve talked about it in all of the playoffs that our bench is huge for us. Our bench has won games for us sometimes because those minutes are crucial,” Quigley said.
The Mercury are down two key reserve players, and just finished semifinal play Friday, while Chicago had two extra days of rest. Phoenix star Diana Taurasi, who finished with 17 points, flew home right after the last game to be with her wife for the birth of their second child. Taurasi said the team wasn’t tired, but coach Sandy Brondello begged to differ.
“I don’t want to make excuses, but we were fatigued,” she said. “The second quarter, we only lost by three in the second half, but if you’re not physically tired, then when you get mentally tired, the execution wasn’t really there where we needed it to be on both ends of the floor.”
“They just went to another level. We couldn’t sustain where we’re at.”
Wade credited his team for the win, but said they had to be prepared to execute in Game 2 on Wednesday.
“We had some lulls early in the fourth quarter, too, that we want to clean up,” he said. “We have a lot to take from and learn from this game even though it was a good game from us. We have some stuff to clean up, and we’ll do our best to try and do that.”
Both teams will take tomorrow off before heading to Chicago.