Candace Parker delivers another classic to lead Chicago Sky to series-evening win over Connecticu...

ByAlexa Philippou ESPN logo
Saturday, September 3, 2022

CHICAGO -- Behind a vintage performance from 14-year vet and two-time WNBA champion Candace Parker, the 2-seed and defending WNBA champion Chicago Sky evened their best-of-five semifinal series against the 3-seed Connecticut Sun at 1-1 with an 85-77 win Wednesday night at Wintrust Arena.

In her second of consecutive dominant playoff outings, Parker finished with a team-high 22 points, four rebounds, four assists and three blocks -- marking her 25th career 20-point playoff game. It ties her with Tamika Catchings for third in WNBA history behind Maya Moore (28) and Diana Taurasi (43).

Across the Sky's first-round series win over the New York Liberty and the first two games of the semifinals versus the Sun, Parker -- a two-time WNBA MVP -- is averaging 16.8 points, 11.4 rebounds and 5.2 assists per game, making her just the second player in league history to average 15/10/5 over a five-game span in the WNBA postseason, according to Elias.

But when the 36-year-old Parker was asked whether she agrees with some onlookers who believe this is the prime of her career, she disagreed.

"I don't think so," Parker said postgame. "I think younger CP in the playoffs was more dominant. But I think just mentally understanding moments and things that I didn't understand when I was fighting to get to the Finals or fighting to win in the playoffs [is the difference]."

Regardless, one thing is for sure: "I'm happy to play with her in this series," teammate Emma Meesseman said, "because going against her is not fun, I think."

Parker's memorable performance happened concurrently with that of another all-time sports legend: In what's expected to be the final tournament of her storied career, 40-year-oldSerena WilliamsdefeatedAnett Kontaveit, the No. 2 player in the world, in three sets in the second round of the US Open.

"When you have generational talents [like Parker and Williams], they're just too good, too good and too dominant," Sky coach James Wade said. "And what they experience is like Napa Valley: Great wine just ages well, and you can say that same thing about those two icons. I think Candace is averaging maybe five blocks a game in the series -- you can't put age on that."

Parker has helped position the Sky to being five wins away from doing something no WNBA team has achieved in two decades: repeat as champion. Chicago earned the franchise's first title last season, Parker's first with the Sky after spending her entire career playing for the Los Angeles Sparks, with whom she won a title in 2016.

"It took me nine years to get to the Finals," Parker said. "You have an opportunity. This team has an opportunity so we can't not seize the opportunity. If we're not going to do it, let's not do it because they're just way better than us. And so let's go out and just play basketball. And I think that's the way that we lead is that we just have to have the right mindset coming in and we have to be the ones that set the tone."

After allowing the Sun to play their style of messy, physical basketball in Game 1, the Sky dictated the flavor of the game early Wednesday, jumping to a 24-14 lead at the end of the first quarter and leading by double figures most of the way before a late Connecticut rally tightened the score in the fourth. Chicago got back to its identity of playing with pretty offense predicated on player and ball movement and with pace, leading to 22 assists on 32 made baskets and 50.8% shooting from the field.

But it was Parker who got the ball rolling, starting the game off 5-for-5 from the field and with multiple and-1s that swung the momentum in Chicago's favor. It mattered little if she was contested (where she went 5-for-8) or taking it off the dribble (5-for-7). And when she wasn't scoring herself, she was facilitating for her teammates, who shot 4-for-7 off her passes.

"She's playing great," said Jonquel Jones, the Sun's leading scorer with 23 points. "We've just got to continue to play defense on her, make her take tough shots, try to pick her up as early as possible in transition and just try to make it messy and get everybody uncomfortable, not just her."

Parker's defense and rebounding have been similarly impactful across the series: Aside from her ability to congest the paint, she recorded 18 boards and six blocks in Game 1 and came through with another trio of rejections in Game 2 to help Chicago keep Connecticut from getting too comfortable down low. She fell one steal short Sunday of recording just the second 5x5 game (5 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists, 5 steals and 5 blocks) in WNBA history -- something she first did in her rookie year in 2008.

"She wants to do everything in her power to get another championship, and so that's why I think you see urgency," Wade said. "That urgency comes in the form of not taking plays off and being your best selves at all times."

Parker and the Sky will travel to Connecticut for the next two games of the series. Game 3 will tip at 1 p.m. ET on Sunday while Game 4 is set for 8 p.m. Tuesday.

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