Connecticut Sun v Chicago Sky - Game One

The Connecticut Sun took a surprising 1-0 lead over the defending champion Chicago Sky on Sunday with a 68-63 win in Game 1 of their best-of-five semi-final series. This was the Sun's first win over the Sky this season after going 0-4 in the regular season. 

Right from the opening tip, the Sun set the tone and were able to keep the Sky off balance for much of the night. Instead of a beautiful game, the Sun were able to turn it into a scrap that was determined by defense, physicality and effort. But while the Sun led for much of the night, they were never able to pull away and needed a last-second miss by Candace Parker to ensure they escaped with the win. 

DeWanna Bonner had a rough night shooting the ball but contributed in all other aspects of the game as she led the way for the Sun with 15 points, nine rebounds, five assists and three steals. Alyssa Thomas added 12 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists in a near triple-double, and Jonquel Jones and Brionna Jones had 12 points a piece. 

Candace Parker led the way for Chicago with a spectacular performance that was right up there amongst the best in league history. She went for 19 points, 18 rebounds, five assists, four steals and six blocks. Though she just missed out on a vaunted 5x5 performance, she did become the first player in league history with at least 15 points, 15 rebounds, five assists and five blocks in a playoff game. 

Sun play the game on their terms

This series, as much as anything, is a matchup between two different brands of basketball. The Sun are big, physical and athletic, and love to turn games into a chaotic scrap where they can overwhelm opponents. On the other hand, the Sky approach the sport more as an artform, preferring a free-flowing style that highlights their versatility and emphasizes ball movement and cutting. 

Game 1, without a doubt, was played on the Sun's terms. No one is ever going to use it as an advertisement for the sport, but that's perfectly fine with the Sun. They just want to win, and that's just what they did on Sunday night. 

Their defensive pressure kept the Sky off-balance all night long, forcing more turnovers, rushed shots and wasted possessions than you'd see in an entire week from the defending champs during the regular season. As a result, the Sun held the Sky to a season-low 63 points on 35.3 percent from the field, their second-worst shooting performance of the season. 

Nothing exemplified the Sun's success more than the fact that the Sky's maestro, point guard Courtney Vandersloot, recorded only two assists -- the fewest she's had in a full game since 2017. (She recorded one assist in a game against the Los Angeles Sparks earlier this season, but left that contest with a concussion after 16 minutes.)

The Sun didn't have much success on offense themselves, but they got the job done through sheer willpower. They scored 45 of their 68 points in the paint or at the free-throw line, grabbed 12 offensive rebounds and took seven more shots than the Sky. 

In one fitting sequence late in the fourth quarter, Jonquel Jones blocked Candace Parker, then the Sun -- clinging to a three-point lead -- kept possession for a whopping 51 seconds by grabbing two offensive rebounds. They eventually turned it over on a shot clock violation, but the extensive time they used up left the Sky with just one chance to tie the game. Ugly, but effective. 

Sun finally get past the Sky

The Sun finished third in the league this season in large part because they could not figure out a way to beat the Sky. They finished 25-11, one game behind both the Sky and Las Vegas Aces, despite going 0-4 against the Sky and 25-7 against everyone else. 

In fact, the Sky have been a problem for the Sun dating back to last season. Heading into Game 1, the Sun had lost six straight to the Sky and nine of their past 11 meetings. That included the semifinals last season that the Sky won in four games. Even more frustrating for the Sun is that most of those contests were extremely competitive. The Sky won six of those games by six points or less, including two in overtime. 

After such a streak, the Sun weren't only facing the Sky on the court, but in their heads as well. To that point, the Sun may have won twice on Sunday night. Bonner's emphatic reaction after coasting in for a layup to seal the win in the closing seconds seemed to symbolize the joy and relief of finally getting past their rivals. 

Sky waste Parker's historic game

Candace Parker is one of the best players the league has ever seen, in large part because of her unique skillset as a forward that allows her to impact the game in every single department. But even she usually doesn't put everything together to the extent she did in Game 1. 

Parker's performance on Sunday was one of the best individual showings the league has ever seen. She finished with 19 points, 18 rebounds, five assists, four steals and six blocks on 9 of 17 from the field, falling just one steal shy of a historic 5x5 performance. (Parker is the only player in WNBA history to ever have such a game, pulling it off in her third career game.) However, she did become the first player to put up at least 15 points, 15 rebounds, five assists and five blocks in a playoff game. (Parker herself is the only other player to put up those combination of status, but had previously only done so in the regular season.)

If all that wasn't enough, Parker also moved into third place on the all-time playoff scoring list, surpassing Maya Moore, and into second place on the all-time playoff rebounding list, surpassing Rebekkah Brunson. 

At times it felt like Parker was the only one on the floor for the Sky. She was everyone on both ends of the court, and it was hard to believe her potential game-tying 3-pointer in the closing seconds didn't go down. The Sky will be kicking themselves for a number of reasons after this game, but perhaps most of all because they let a Parker master class go to waste.