The Chicago Sky and Connecticut Sun have both been on an upward trajectory in the past few seasons. From fringe playoff contenders a few years back, they’re now legitimate title contenders this season. That’s why it’s only fitting that the two best teams in the Eastern Conference get to battle it out for a chance to play in the 2022 WNBA Finals.
These two teams have faced off in the playoffs in the past two years. In 2020, the Sun knocked out the Sky in the first round of the playoffs. Last year, the Sky got their revenge. They upset the top-seeded Sun in the semifinals and rode that momentum all the way to the finals where they won the championship.
In the regular season this year, the Sky continued their dominance of the Sun, sweeping all four games. But they had to earn all of those four wins as the Sun played them hard until the final buzzer.
Connecticut now has the opportunity to not only break their losing streak to Chicago but to also get revenge on the defending champions for last year’s playoff heartbreak.
Most compelling storyline
Looking at their season stats, these are two of the most evenly matched teams in the league.
The Sky rank second in terms of scoring average (86.3) and first in field-goal percentage (48.1%). Right behind them in both are the Sun (85.8 PPG, 46.2% FG). Defensively, the Sun are the second-best team in the league in points allowed per game (77.8), limiting their opponents to hit only 43.8 percent of their shots. At fourth place is the Sky, allowing 81.3 points per game at a 43.9 percent clip. Digging even deeper, the Sun were actually better than the Sky in terms of advanced metrics. Their net rating of 10.2 was the highest in the league this season, while the Sky ranked third at 6.2.
So how come the season series was so lopsided with the Sky taking all four games?
Chicago has closers that made big plays in the clutch. Three out of the four games were decided by four points or less, with their second meeting needing an extra period to determine the outcome.
In the first game, it was Emma Meeseman that hit a three to give the Sky the lead in the final 30 seconds of the game. In their second matchup, it was Allie Quigley that hit big shots in OT to deliver the win. In their final meeting of the regular season, Candace Parker took over in the final minutes to seal the win.
Connecticut will have to find their own closers to be able to get their first win over Chicago this season. They’re not lacking in firepower as they have six players averaging nine points per game or more. Their options include triple-double threat Alyssa Thomas, former MVP Jonquel Jones, and proven buckets Dewanna Bonner or Courtney Williams. It’s just a matter of execution for the Sun. If one of those players can step up in the clutch then the Sky are in for a long, tough battle in the semifinals.
The focus will be on the frontline of both teams. Kaleah Copper versus Alyssa Thomas is the marquee matchup of the series. While that’s happening, Meeseman is battling Jones in the paint and Bonner is doing everything to stop Parker.
Forgotten in the shuffle is Courtney Vandersloot. In four games against the Sun this season, she averaged 13.3 points, 7.6 assists, and two steals per game. She’s the one clear advantage the Sky have over the Sun.
Vandersloot is an experienced floor general that can steady the ship when things aren’t going well for the Sky. She’s also proven to be a big-time performer in the clutch. She can create for her teammates, making sure their endgame execution is on point, or she can take the high-pressure shot herself.
When it’s winning time for Chicago, look out for Sloot.
Blueprint for winning
For Chicago, it’s simple. Keep doing what they’re doing. Whether it’s the start or the end of the game, they just have to run their free-flowing offense and play on a string defensively. If they can continue to execute cleanly on both ends of the floor, they’ll continue their winning run over Connecticut.
The Sun have to mess things up. They can’t be afraid to harass the Sky. They led the league in forcing turnovers, which led to them being able to run and get points on the break. Connecticut has to turn that style of play up in this matchup against Chicago.
They have to make life uncomfortable for the Sky. The Sun can’t allow their opponents to be able to execute tidy plays. They have to make the Sky play a new style of physical, in-your-face, ugly basketball.
Let’s face it, things haven’t been working for the Sun this season against the Sky. They’re going to have to change things up to be able to make this a tougher matchup than it’s been so far this season.