The Chicago Sky are one win away from their first-ever championship after defeating the visiting Phoenix Mercury 86-50 in Game 3 of the best-of-five WNBA Finals on Friday at Wintrust Arena.
Kahleah Copper was the catalyst for Chicago's effort, dropping 20 of her game-high 22 points in the first half en route the emphatic victory. She nearly outscored the Mercury by herself with the Sky beating Phoenix 46-24 at halftime.
That intermission margin tied for the largest in WNBA Finals history. It just so happened to tie the 2014 Mercury's mark against the Sky, who got revenge seven years later.
ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo
The <a href="https://twitter.com/chicagosky?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@chicagosky</a> have a 22-point lead at halftime, tied for the largest halftime lead in WNBA Finals history.<br><br>Chicago returns the favor, as it matches Game 1 of the 2014 Finals, in which the Mercury led the Sky 42-20 at the half. <a href="https://t.co/mphCoGhCeY">pic.twitter.com/mphCoGhCeY</a>
Copper ultimately scored nearly one point a minute, as she played just 24 minutes on the night.
The Sky's defense also came to play, holding the Mercury to 8-of-34 shooting in the first half and 16-of-62 (25.8 percent) overall.
Chicago cruised in the second half, doubling up Phoenix's fourth-quarter point total (24-12) en route to the 36-point blowout.
Across the Timeline showcased the Sky's historically great performance with these stats:
Across the Timeline @WBBTimeline
Some records tonight...<br><br>- Largest margin of victory in WNBA Playoffs history (36)<br>- Tied the record for most players scoring in a WNBA Finals game (11, just the 2nd time in league history)<br>- Lowest FG% for a team in WNBA Finals history (3rd in Playoffs) by the Mercury: 25.8%
The two teams split a pair of games in Phoenix to start the series.
The Sky took Game 1 by a 91-77 score behind a 21-point, 10-rebound Copper double-double.
Phoenix responded by winning an instant classic for Game 2. Brittney Griner's game-high 29 points propelled the Mercury to a 91-86 victory.
Sky G/F Kahleah Copper: 22 points
Sky G Allie Quigley: 9 points, 4 assists, 2 steals
Sky G Courtney Vandersloot: 4 points, 10 assists
Sky F/C Candace Parker: 13 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists
Sky G Diamond DeShields: 11 points, 5 steals, 5 rebounds
Mercury C Brittney Griner: 16 points
Mercury G Diana Taurasi: 5 points, 2 steals
Mercury G Skylar Diggins-Smith: 7 points, 3 assists
Copper, Chicago Put on Clinic
The Sky put on the type of performance that coaches can show their players as a model for how to play perfect basketball.
Sure, the box score would literally imply otherwise. They committed 13 turnovers and missed half of their 60 field goals.
Still, the Sky realistically couldn't have played any better, and their efforts were even more admirable against two of the game's all-time greats in Brittney Griner and Diana Taurasi.
Gritty, aggressive defense led to crisp, intelligent passing and tough, clutch finishes. This bucket from Copper serves as an example, as an Allie Quigley steal led to a Candace Parker no-look dish, which set up the hoop-and-harm.
It helps Cooper to have a nightly double-double threat in Parker down low, a dime machine in Vandersloot and a sharpshooter in Quigley around her, but the 2021 WNBA All-Star is pretty great in her own right.
She was just an unstoppable force Friday, much like in Game 1 when she dropped a double-double for the road win. You can find her first-half highlight reel here:
With Cooper and Co. firing on all cylinders, the Sky will now look to close out the WNBA Finals. We know they'll have a loud, sellout crowd cheering their every move if Game 3 is any indication. The crowd was amped pregame and continued their enthusiasm through four quarters.
Parker spoke about how hyped everyone was pregame, and Chance the Rapper got everyone going too.
"The entire city showed up. I mean I pulled up to the game and people were lined up 2-3 hours before."<a href="https://twitter.com/Candace_Parker?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@Candace_Parker</a> on the ELECTRIC Chicago crowd 🔊<br><br>We can verify, the crowd was LIT 🔥 <a href="https://t.co/wzVmUbtbq8">pic.twitter.com/wzVmUbtbq8</a>
.<a href="https://twitter.com/chancetherapper?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@chancetherapper</a> is in the HOUSE reppin' <a href="https://twitter.com/kahleahcopper?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@kahleahcopper</a>'s jersey 🔥<br><br>And is lovin' seeing the <a href="https://twitter.com/chicagosky?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@chicagosky</a> ball out 😎<br><br>📺 ESPN2 <a href="https://t.co/AdNlCo512b">pic.twitter.com/AdNlCo512b</a>
The Sky went just 16-16 this regular season, although the team went 15-8 with Parker on the court. Truthfully, the Parker-led Sky were one of the best regular-season teams in the league, and now the team is giving the rest of the WNBA serious problems with her dominating the post.
Now Parker, Copper and Co. look to close this one out. The clear edge goes to Chicago, who will benefit from the raucous crowd environment as the Sky hope for their first WNBA title.
Everything Goes Wrong for Phoenix
Mercury center Brittney Griner opened Game 3 with a 17-foot jumper to give Phoenix a 2-0 lead.
That's the first and only time Phoenix ever held a lead as the Sky overwhelmed the Mercury on both ends.
Phoenix had 19 turnovers and never scored more than 14 points in any single quarter. Every Phoenix player finished with a minus-10 on the court or worse. Diana Taurasi shot 1-of-10 (1-of-8 from three-point range).
If you take out Griner's 7-of-17 shooting night, Phoenix made just 20 percent (9-of-45) of its field goals. No other player outside Griner had more than two field goals. Courtney Vandersloot had just one fewer assist (10) than the entire Mercury team (11).
It was an uncharacteristically bad performance for Phoenix, who had scored fewer than 60 points just one other time during the regular and postseason.
The only good news for the Mercury is that they aren't going home. If they find a way to win Game 4, then they'll have a shot to clinch the WNBA title in a winner-take-all Game 5.
However, this was still a bitterly disappointing outing for a team that was riding a massive wave of momentum after taking down the Las Vegas Aces in a phenomenal semifinals series. It'll have to start at the defensive end for Phoenix, as the team has just not gotten it done there all series against Chicago.
If Phoenix somehow cracks the code to stop the Sky's talented, versatile offense, though, then the silver lining will appear.
Chicago will host Phoenix for Game 4 on Sunday at 3 p.m. ET. Game 5, if necessary, will go down at Phoenix's Footprint Center on Tuesday at 9 p.m.