CHICAGO – More than 23 years have passed since Michael Jordan stole the ball from Utah Jazz striker Karl Malone, drove around the court and nailed the jumper to give his Chicago Bulls a 1-point win in Game 6 of the NBA Finals. This memorable episode secured the Bulls their sixth league title and made Chicago fans enjoy a moment of shared pride.
It’s been a long time since this city’s professional hoops fans knew the feeling, but WNBA Sky kept them familiar with high stakes basketball.
Clad in blue and yellow jerseys on Friday night, eager Chicago fans gathered at the Wintrust Arena to watch Sky take on the Phoenix Mercury in Game 3 of the WNBA Finals.
The city’s desire for the championship manifested itself in the atmosphere. Fans spun towels over their heads during the Sky players’ show. They booed and shouted at the Mercury players for every possession. And they roared and bounced around the arena with every Chicago basket full. Each. Lonely. One.
At the end of the game, after Chicago was on its way to an 86/50 win that allowed Sky one win to separate them from their first championship in franchise history, a Sky fan shouted, “Good luck next year!” Mercury players. court.
By the fourth quarter, both teams had already replaced their starting players. At the entrance to the bench of “Chicago” there were exclamations of “Heaven at four”, and one thing became clear: Chicago is again ready for the moment of the championship.
The fourth game in Chicago will take place on Sunday. The Sky topped the top five streak, two games to one.
“I really feel Chicago. I really feel it, ”Sky coach James Wade said after Friday’s game. “The way they spoke and supported, you can feel their passion. It just gives us more passion. Hopefully we can see the same thing on Sunday and we can all celebrate together. “
Chicago’s ability to rely on the strengths of its stars puts the team on the brink of a title. Vocal lead by Candice Parker at both ends of the venue. Defender Courtney Wanderslot’s ability to find open teammates and ease offense (she had 10 assists on Friday). And Chicago is increasingly relying on the athleticism of striker Calia Copper, how she beats defenders and how she takes advantage of individual matches – skills that have made her one of the most influential players in the finals.
Sixth-seeded Sky used the dominant defensive team and the Medi’s statement game to gain a potentially decisive boost in Game 3, after upsetting Mercury with the fifth-seeded Game 1 and lost in overtime in Game 2. The WNBA Finals record for most half-time advantage (22), set the record for the most advantage in the final game (36) and provided Mercury with 25.8% of his shots at night.
Parker, who is from the Chicago suburb of Naperville and signed with Sky after 13 seasons with the Los Angeles Sparks, has 13 points, 3 assists and 4 rebounds.
Copper scored 20 of their 22 points in the first half as Sky left early, causing a deafening roar from the home crowd, including the Chicago native. Chance rapper, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and Chicago Bears defender Justin Fields.
“The only thing that probably doesn’t get much talked about is its competitiveness,” Wade said of Medi. “This is what it takes to get to the next level. We saw it every day, even when she played little. So it is not surprising for us, because we know what is in it. Now she lets the whole world know. She’s just like that. “
Mercury coach Sandy Brondello said after the game that Phoenix simply couldn’t handle Copper, who was 6/10.
“We let her sweep too much and go off baseline,” Brondello said. “When she’s filming it from the outside, you have to give up something, right? And she did it. She had a really good game and obviously it took our lives a little. “
Goals from Phoenix’s Big Three, Diana Taurasi, Brittney Greener and Skylar Diggins-Smith have supported the team in critical games throughout the postseason. Together they scored 56 points in the decisive fifth game of the semi-final against Las Vegas Aces. Now, even after an unusually bad night of shooting against Sky in Game 3 – they were a total of 10 out of 36 from the field – they may be the key to keeping Mercury’s season on Sunday.
Teams this postseason and for most of the regular season had little to say about Greener’s dominance under the basket. She’s a nightmarish one-on-one fight at a low post, and she’s gotten better at skipping double teams to find open teammates around the perimeter.
However, Sky infiltrated the Greener early and held her with just 4 points in the second half of Friday, for a total of 16 after she scored 29 career playoff points in Game 2.
When the eyes opened on her, “she just missed them,” Brondello said. “They played a little more in her space. I think in the second half you saw her hit with the right hook. “
Brondello later added: “She is still the one to whom we have to pass the ball as much as possible.”
The last time Phoenix won the league title was in 2014, when he defeated Sky in his third championship in franchise history. This time, both teams went a hard way to the final. The Sky finished the regular season with a 16-16 record, with only a handful of them making it to the finals. Mercury limped in the postseason of three losses due to injuries.
Could Sunday mark the end of an unlikely playoff streak for both teams?
Head down at the post-match press conference with Taurasi seated to her left, Diggins-Smith summed up what Mercury needed to do to extend the streak and send her back to Phoenix.
“Bring it into play,” Diggins-Smith said, pointing out that Phoenix needs to quickly overcome Friday’s disappointing results and refocus.
“We didn’t lose the show tonight.”