After handling business in Brooklyn to succeed the New York Liberty in the first round, the Chicago Sky faced off against the Connecticut Sun in what proved to be a true challenge.
With a score of 63-68, the Sun secured the first win in this semifinal matchup despite sloppy play on both sides of the ball for both teams.
Candace Parker, the Magellan player of the game, finished with 18 points and 19 rebounds. Parker fought hard on both ends of the floor all night against the Sun’s top performer, Alyssa Thomas, with 12 points, seven assists, and 10 rebounds. Kaleah Copper finished with 13 points on 5-for-10 shooting.
From the start, the intensity was there. The Sun played fast and aggressive on defense: Playing high on nearly all of Chicago’s screens and hedging every pick and roll the Sky threw at them.
Chicago responded well in the second quarter, keeping the game close and producing some big-time shots. Julie Allemand, a young guard who has significantly progressed this year, shined in her first minutes on the floor netting, a deep three at the shot clock buzzer. Then, turning nothing into something, providing Rebekkah Gardener with an inside pass to score two while the shot clock winded down.
Beginning the second half, 34-34, the Sky made quick adjustments and came out rolling, pressing the Sun and getting easy points inside. In one sequence, Parker scored on two consecutive trips down the floor then stole the ball from Courtney Williams. Throughout the rest of the second half, the game stayed close, not growing any more than five points.
But, the last two minutes of play in the fourth provided the Sun the win.
After Emma Meeseman’s 3-pointer, with 2:12 remaining, gave Chicago a 63-62 lead and whipped the Wintrust Arena crowd into a frenzy, the Sun missed their final four shots.
Then, coming out of a timeout, with 16.6 seconds left and the score, 63-66, the Sky had the opportunity to tie the game. Parker threw up a 3-point miss that took fans to the exit and ultimately led to a DeWanna Bonner transition basket on the other end that sealed the win.
Responding to the loss, Sky coach James Wade said, “I felt like we played their style. They wanted us to play their style of game, where it was slow and methodical, and we like to play a little bit freer. … We’ll be ready for it next game.”
Though the Sky swept the regular-season series, the games were decided by an average of 4.5 points, so it was no shock that Game 1 of the semifinals was so tight.
“We know that this team won’t be together maybe next year. Contracts are up,” Bonner said. “The way we’re playing in the playoffs, the confidence we have in each other, the belief, our defense — we’re just playing, we’re just in the moment, we’re just in the present. And whatever happens out there, once we give our best effort, that’s what happens.”
Game 2 will be at the Wintrust Arena on Wednesday and will deliver even more energy than the first game did.
By Jeremiah Griffith, Junior, Noble Academy