It didn’t matter what others thought of their chances. The Chicago Sky knew they were going to win the WNBA championship heading into this postseason.
The Sky completed their miracle run with an 80-74 victory over the Phoenix Mercury on Sunday in which they came back from an 11-point fourth-quarter deficit. They set a WNBA record for most wins in one postseason with eight en route to the franchise’s first title.
“Faith is a big key for me,” Sky coach and general manager James Wade said. “You have to believe it and I can’t explain it. It’s just in me and you give it to them. You sound crazy enough that they believe it, and when I got here in 2018, I remember saying we were going to win a championship.
“We did it because we believed and we probably did something no one has ever done.”
The journey was as impressive as the series clincher in Game 4 of the best-of-five WNBA Finals at Wintrust Arena. The Sky went into the playoffs as the sixth seed after finishing with a 16-16 record and had to win two single-elimination games before ousting the top-seeded Connecticut Sun in four games in the semifinals.
Before Sunday, no team had won the WNBA Finals after ranking outside of the top two in net rating. The Sky’s 1.5 net rating was sixth in the league and the lowest mark of any WNBA champion.
But throw out the advanced analytics, the historical narratives and everything in between. This playoff run was about every person in the organization coming together as one and finding its groove at the right time.
“We did this for each other,” said Allie Quigley, who led the Sky with 26 points in Game 4 and sparked the rally with three fourth-quarter 3-pointers. “We had a breaking point a month ago where we all looked at each other and we said who are we going to play for. The first thing Candace (Parker) said was she was going to play for me, and it made me want to play harder.
“In the end, we all wanted to play for each other, and that’s what you saw tonight.”
Quigley and Courtney Vandersloot have been at the top of every hill and the bottom of every valley the franchise has experienced. The Sky drafted Vandersloot with the third pick of the 2011 draft, while Quigley bounced around four teams before the Joliet Catholic and DePaul alumna made her way back to Chicago in 2013.
The two eventually got married, rewrote the franchise record book and Sunday added the ultimate accolade that was missing from their resumes: a WNBA title.
“Together, we made a commitment to this team and this franchise because we got a taste early of what it felt like to be in the finals,” said Vandersloot, referring to the 2014 matchup versus the Mercury, which the Sky lost in a three-game sweep. “We knew if we got the right people that we could be in this moment and it would be special here.
“We didn’t want to go seeking this feeling. We wanted to do it here and we knew we had what it takes. We just needed a few more pieces.”
The missing pieces came in waves. After the Sky’s run to the 2014 finals, superstars Sylvia Fowles and Elena Delle Donne requested trades away from Chicago. In the 2017 Delle Donne deal with the Washington Mystics, the Sky got Kahleah Copper — named WNBA Finals MVP on Sunday — and Stefanie Dolson back.
The Sky drafted Diamond DeShields with the No. 3 pick in 2018, added Azurá Stevens in a 2020 trade with the Dallas Wings and re-signed Astou Ndour-Fall after the Wings waived her.
And in the biggest free-agent acquisition in WNBA history, Parker — a two-time league MVP with the Los Angeles Sparks and a former Naperville Central star — signed a two-year deal with her hometown team in February, looking for the second championship in her storied career.
Vandersloot and Quigley sent her a care package of Chicago-area food — including Portillo’s, Parker’s favorite fast-food restaurant — to remind her what it would be like to come home.
Upon signing, Parker immediately became the team’s vocal leader. Her voice and steadiness throughout this season took the franchise to the level it had pined for since accruing all of this talent.
“Sometimes you don’t have to tell your story … time will,” Parker said. “That is something I have lived by, and I think everybody up here (referring to Copper, Vandersloot and Quigley) has had that moment where they felt they needed to tell their side of the story.
“But you don’t have to. You just have to put your head down, work hard, give energy and the world will get back to you.”
No one embodies that sentiment more than Copper, who set a franchise record with 177 points in one postseason. After arriving in 2017, Copper stayed the course and got better with each season. Her breaking-out party came during last year’s WNBA bubble when she filled in for an injured DeShields and raised her scoring average from 6.7 points in 2019 to 14.8 in 2020.
Copper built off that momentum and became an All-Star for the first time this season. She was second in the WNBA in fast-break points per game and established herself as one of the premier two-way players in the league during the postseason.
Her brilliant scoring at all three levels in the finals and her defense against Mercury great Diana Taurasi, who shot 32.7% in the series, earned Copper the MVP honor.
“I knew we were going to win the championship,” she said. “When the playoffs started, we gave ourselves a clean slate and totally forgot about the regular season. We didn’t care about seeding.
“I’m glad that we got to play those single-elimination games and feel that pressure because once we got to a series, we already knew what it takes. I’m just so proud of this team.”
The Mercury came back firing Sunday after their Game 3 performance, in which they set a WNBA record for worst shooting percentage in a finals game. This time around it was the Sky who struggled to find the bottom of the net. They shot 28% (7 of 25) from beyond the 3-point arc.
However, the offense came alive in the fourth quarter, with Quigley’s third 3-pointer of the quarter — and fifth of the game — cutting the Mercury lead to 70-65 with 5:43 to go.
Parker — who had a monster Game 4 with 16 points, 13 rebounds, five assists and four steals — hit a 3-pointer with 1:57 to play to tie the score at 72, and Dolson made layups on consecutive possessions to put the Sky ahead by four with 45.8 seconds left.
After Taurasi made 2 of 3 free throws to cut it to 76-74, Vandersloot restored the four-point lead with a short jumper with 23.7 seconds left and added two free throws for the final margin.
Vandersloot finished with 10 points and 15 assists, and Copper also scored 10. Dolson scored eight off the bench.
Brittney Griner led the Mercury with a game-high 28 points on 12-of-19 shooting, and Skylar Diggins-Smith added 16 points and eight assists. But Taurasi struggled again after going 1-for-10 in Game 3. She shot 4-for-16 in Game 4 and finished with 16 points.
The Sky have a busy offseason ahead of them with only four players signed for 2022, according to Her Hoop Stats. After what this team endured for the past decade, the future can be put on hold.
Just as the team did all season, it is focused on “the now.”
“I am elated for the city and the fans,” Sky owner Michael Alter said. “The crowd here was amazing. I’ve never seen Wintrust like this, and nobody wants to go home. We are thrilled to be here in this moment.”