- M.A. Voepel covers the WNBA, women’s college basketball, and other college sports for espnW. Voepel began covering women’s basketball in 1984, and has been with ESPN since 1996.
The Chicago Sky host the Connecticut Sun in one winner-take-all game left in the 2022 WNBA playoffs, and one question remains: Will the real best team in this semifinal series please stand up?
The two teams meet Thursday (8 p.m. ET, ESPN2) in a decisive Game 5 of a series many didn’t expect to go this far. Chicago beat Connecticut 3-1 in the semifinals last season on the way to the WNBA title and then won all four regular-season matchups between the teams this year. If the Sun couldn’t defeat the Sky once all season, could they really do it three times in the postseason? We’re about to find out.
Starting in 2016, the league went away from the WNBA Finals pitting the Eastern and Western conference playoff winners and changed to a format in which the top eight teams are seeded regardless of conference. But this year, the semifinals ended up as de facto Eastern and Western matchups.
The Las Vegas Aces defeated the Seattle Storm 3-1 on Tuesday and await the Sky-Sun winner as the Finals opens in Vegas on Sunday (3 p.m. ET, ABC). That semifinal had ups and downs for both teams during the course of the series, but it all came down to the wire in exciting fashion. As good as the No. 4 seed Storm were, the No. 1 seed Aces were just a little better.
But the Sky and Sun both have played subpar games in their series. The worst for the Sky came Tuesday in Game 4, when they scored 80 points but lost by 24. After the Sun had struggled enormously in the paint in their Game 3 loss Sunday, they didn’t just turn things around, they set a WNBA playoff record for points in the paint (66), and that has to concern Chicago.
“I’m sure it’s not how we wanted to play,” Chicago coach James Wade said. “But we have to find ways to have that high energy. It’s a single-elimination game now.”
Wade’s evaluation of this semifinal matchup so far? “It’s a messy series, it’s an ugly series, it’s a physical series, it’s a Connecticut series.”
The more this series has been played like that, the more it benefits the Sun. That’s not to suggest Connecticut can’t move the ball and run a smooth offense; the Sun have proven they can, especially in Game 4.
“Incredible heart and determination by our players to do what they’re capable of,” Connecticut coach Curt Miller said Tuesday.
The Sun’s Jonquel Jones, the 2021 WNBA MVP, was held to single-digit scoring in the past two games, something that had not happened since late July. Yet as a team, the Sun looked as cohesive as they have all postseason, led by 19 points each from DeWanna Bonner and Courtney Williams.
The Sun were 12-6 on the road during the regular season, as were the Sky. Las Vegas (13-5) was the only team with a better road record. So Connecticut has confidence going into Chicago, especially having won there in the first game of the series.
Both franchises have a lot at stake. The Sky want to have a shot at winning back-to-back championships, last done 20 years ago by the Los Angeles Sparks. While she has not confirmed any plans to play or retire beyond this season, the Sky’s Candace Parker is 36 — the oldest player remaining in the postseason — and doesn’t want this chance to get away.
While this isn’t the Sun’s last opportunity with their current core to win a title, they are getting closer to that window closing.
“It’s razor-thin in this league, the difference between winning and losing,” Miller said. “And it can flip in a second.”
Which way will it flip Thursday? Will the Sky and Sun have a game that is as thrilling as the four pitting Las Vegas and Seattle were, or will the pendulum swing hard in one direction?
“Home court and crowds play a factor,” Miller said. “But it’s going to come down to who plays better for two hours Thursday. We feel like we have a team that grinds and has grit, and I feel that’s the kind of toughness you need to pull off a road win in a big game.”
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