Chicago Sky upend Sun to reach WNBA finals as Vegas force Game 5 on Phoenix

Courtney Vandersloot and the Chicago Sky are back in the WNBA finals for the first time since 2014 thanks in big part to Candace Parker’s decision to come home.

Vandersloot scored 19 points and Kahleah Copper added 18 to help the Sky beat the top-seeded Connecticut Sun 79-69 on Wednesday night.

“We were missing one piece, and it was Candace Parker,” Vandersloot said. “We knew what she brought to us. She was going to take us to this point right here. Whether we win a championship or not, she changed this franchise.”

Parker, who returned home to Chicago this season after spending the first 13 years of her career in Los Angeles, finished with 17 points, nine rebounds and seven assists.

“It feels unbelievable,” Parker said. “It’s a full circle moment. To look up in the stands and just see all the people that I started playing basketball in front of. It’s super special.”

Chicago was .500 during the regular season, but a big reason was that Parker was sidelined for the first part of the year with an ankle injury. Once she returned, the team started to get going.

The Sky jumped all over Connecticut behind Vandersloot. She hit two threes to help build a 13-2 advantage less than three minutes into the first quarter. Her ability to connect from long-range helped transform Chicago’s offensive approach in the game.

“She was knocking down the three, and I think it just makes us a different ballclub,” Parker said. “We always preach to be aggressive. We’re a different team when that happens, and I just love the way she adjusts.”

The Sky, who held a seven-point lead heading into the fourth quarter, opened the period with an 8-2 run to put the game away.

Jonquel Jones led the way for the Sun with 25 points and 11 rebounds. Natisha Hiedeman added 16 points off the bench, hitting five 3-pointers.

“I can’t say exactly why we didn’t come out with that enthusiasm and energy that we needed,” Jones said. “I think it was definitely a big factor. Shots just weren’t falling.”

Connecticut were able to trim the deficit to three in the second quarter, but the Sky then finished the half on a 16-6 run. The Sun would never get closer than that the rest of the way.

It was the first time that the No 1 seed hasn’t reached the finals since the WNBA changed its playoff format in 2016.

“It’s certainly a sad and disappointed locker room,” Sun coach Curt Miller said. “It’s just a disappointing eight-day stretch where we just were out-coached, we were out-played. It just felt like we were always on our heels this series.”

Chicago native Chance the Rapper and Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen took in the game from courtside.

“Scottie Pippen was at our game today. He’s the next best thing to Ron Harper in my eyes since Ron Harper was my hero growing up,” Parker said. “Chance the Rapper, Jessie Jackson. We had people come out constantly to our games.”

On the other side of the bracket, the Las Vegas Aces are back in business after staving off elimination in their own WNBA semi-final tie.

Chelsea Gray scored 22 points and the Aces used a massive third quarter run to beat the Phoenix Mercury 93-76 on Wednesday night, evening their best-of-five series at two-all.

“It was just a change in attitude,” said Aces guard Kelsey Plum, who had 20 points and six assists. “For us to get beat the way we did the previous two games, it’s humbling. You have to look at what can I do better as an individual, what can I do to help the team and I’m really proud everyone just bought in tonight.”

The Aces got off to a good start for the first time in three games and ran away from the Mercury with a 26-2 run to begin the third quarter.

A’ja Wilson bounced back from a shaky Game 3 with 15 points and 12 rebounds. Riquna Williams provided a lift with 17 points. Gray hit four 3s and Las Vegas shot 11 of 22 from the arc to set up a decisive Game 5 Friday in Las Vegas. The winner faces the Chicago Sky after they took out the Connecticut Sun in four games.

“That’s how we play basketball,” Aces coach Bill Laimbeer said.

Phoenix had to play without guard Sophie Cunningham due to a calf strain, then lost guard Kim Nurse to a right knee injury 39 seconds into the game.

The Mercury were sharp early, thanks to a lift from Shey Peddy (13 points), but were disjointed at both ends during the Aces’ third-quarter run.

Diana Taurasi and Skylar Diggins-Smith had 14 points each to lead Phoenix.

“You knew they were going to respond and today we knew that coming,” Taurasi said. “We just didn’t the things done that you need to beat a really good team.”

Las Vegas won the series’ first game, but the Mercury won in consecutive routs to take a 2-1 series lead.

Phoenix set WNBA records for points (117) and points in a half (68) to win Game 2, then played one of its best all-around games of the season to move within one win of its first WNBA finals since winning the 2014 title.