There is a line in a Shania Twain song that goes, “We might have took the long way; we knew we’d get there someday.” It kind of sums up this year’s participants in the WNBA Finals, the Phoenix Mercury and the Chicago Sky. Not only did these two teams, which finished fifth and sixth in WNBA regular season play, have to play every round of the playoffs, but the Mercury were pushed to a fifth and deciding game in the semi-finals.
Despite being a two-time WNBA MVP and leading the Los Angeles Sparks to the 2016 WNBA Championship, Candace Parker has been largely overlooked in recent years. For this season, Parker made the bold move to return to her hometown of Chicago and join the Sky for her 14th WNBA season. She dealt with injury and missed nine games, but when she turned it on, she delivered.
Combined with team stalwarts such as Allie Quigley, Courtney Vandersloot and Diamond DeShields, Parker was able to elevate the Sky to a level it hadn’t seen since the departure of Elena Delle Donne. The Sky defeated the heavily favored Connecticut Sun in the semi-finals. The Sun came into the semi-finals on a 14-game winning streak headlined by 2021 WNBA MVP Jonquel Jones, but Parker was determined, and the Sky headed to its first Finals since 2014.
In an intriguing coincidence, the team the Sky faces is the Mercury, its opponent in the Sky’s only previous Finals appearance, which the Mercury dominated. The Mercury is led by one of the great leaders in basketball history, Diana Taurasi, and Brittney Griner, who has elevated her game to a new level this season.
Despite the Las Vegas Aces being younger and faster and the Mercury being without guard Kia Nurse, who suffered a torn ACL in game four, somehow the Mercury prevailed in game five. It was due to the unrelenting focus on Taurasi and the sheer will of Griner. Even though the New Yorkers on the Mercury didn’t play a lot of minutes, there is New York basketball energy and tenacity in Long Islander Bria Hartley and Bronx native Kia Vaughn, both of whom are playing in their first WNBA Finals.
The Sky prevailed over the Mercury 91–77 in game one in Phoenix. Play continued last night. The Finals resume tomorrow in Chicago.