WNBA playoffs: Candace Parker nears triple-double as Sky shut down late Wings comeback

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The question for the Chicago Sky was always what version would show up in the 2021 playoffs. The answer so far is a bit of both, but it was the standout version that prevailed and put them into the second round with a 81-64 win over the No. 7 Dallas Wings on Thursday night in Chicago.

The No. 6 seed Sky trounced to a 21-point lead over the Wings in the first half only to have the Wings pull within four in the third quarter and make it the close contest viewers anticipated. It was a five-point game at the start of the fourth quarter before Chicago poured it on late to break its unfortunate streak of playoff heartbreaks.

The Sky will play another single-elimination game on Sunday against either the No. 3 Minnesota Lynx or the No. 4 Seattle Storm. The No. 8 New York Liberty and No. 5 Phoenix Mercury are currently underway on ESPN2. Mercury guard Diana Taurasi is not playing due to injury.

Candace Parker nears triple-double

Candace Parker, playing in her first playoff game with her hometown team, was on triple-double watch from the first quarter and finished with 11 points, 15 rebounds, seven assists and three steals. During her postgame interview on the broadcast, she rightly gave the credit to sixth-year guard Kahleah Copper. Copper scored a game-high 23 points, 12 of which she dropped during the pivotal first quarter. Chicago led, 25-14, after one and 44-29 at the half.

The Sky shot 45.2% overall, but only 19% (4-for-12) from 3-point range. They’re one of only four teams in WNBA history to shoot that poorly from range and are the first to win, via Her Hoop Stats.Their success on the boards, 47-35, was key and Dallas struggled to hit easy shots near the basket.

It was a Marina Mabrey 3-pointer, her first score of the game, that cut the Wings’ deficit to four with 3:16 left in the third quarter. They won the quarter, 21-11, setting up a back-and-forth final period, though they never overcame the hole.

Arike Ogunbowale, kept to one basket in the first quarter, and Satou Sabally, dealing with an Achilles injury, keyed the response for Dallas. Ogunbowale, fifth in the league at 18.7 ppg, led Dallas with 22 points on 8-for-16 shooting. Sabally came off the bench for 12 points on 5-for-10 shooting with four rebounds and two steals in 22 minutes. At one point in the third quarter, she threw up on the sideline and returned minutes later. She’s averaged 24.9 minutes per game, and fewer in recent outings, as she deals with that injury that clearly hampered her late.

Isabelle Harrison, returning from COVID-19, came off the bench for nine points and 10 rebounds, which led the team. The Wings didn’t get much from their starters as two scored nine each and another two didn’t score at all and only collected a couple of rebounds.

Chicago used a 11-0 run in the first quarter to take a 19-9 lead they never relinquished. They led by 11 at the start of the second quarter, fueled by offensive movement and a stiff defense. In the first quarter alone, they out-assisted the Wings, 10-2, and kept Ogunbowale silent. Parker was already on triple-double alert with seven points, eight rebounds and four assists. While Courtney Vandersloot went full-court to take on an easy buzzer-beater bucket that shouldn’t have been that simple. The league’s peak performer in assists for five consecutive years had 17 points, eight rebounds and six assists.

It wasn’t until the 4:12 mark of the second quarter that Ogunbowale scored again. Chicago’s defense made everything tough for the youngest squad in the league, and their early shots and easy misses didn’t help.

The Sky are heavy title contenders despite their seeding and 16-16 regular-season record. They also had experience on their side. The team has a combined 112 games of playoff experienced compared to 10 for the Wings. It was the Wings’ first postseason appearance since 2018, and the first of Ogunbowale and Sabally’s already dazzling careers.

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