By PATRICK ROSE
CHICAGO (AP) — Kahleah Copper provided the offense and the Chicago Sky used a dominant defensive effort to move within a win of the franchise’s first WNBA championship.
Copper scored 20 of her 22 points in the first half and Chicago routed the Phoenix Mercury 86-50 on Friday night in Game 3 of the finals.
Chicago will look to close out the best of five series on Sunday.
“I was telling my team. I’m 0-2 in Game 4 closeout at home,” said Candace Parker, who added 13 points. “I don’t want that to continue. We know they are a fantastic team and they’ll come out and be ready. Come back stronger.”
The Sky dominated on both ends, holding Brittney Griner to just four first half points on 1 of 8 shooting after she scored 29 in the Mercury’s overtime win on Wednesday. Chicago also took Diana Taurasi out of the game, holding to her five points on 1 of 10 shooting. Griner finished with 16 points as both of their night’s ended early in the fourth quarter as the Sky kept the lead in the twenties.
Copper set the tone early for the Sky with seven points in the first quarter. She finished a 3-point play to put Chicago up 20-11 at the end of the first quarter. Copper was 5 of 5 from the line in the quarter, which was a drastic difference from Wednesday’s loss. The Sky only attempted four free throws for the entire game.
“Her energy is unmatched. her positivity is unmatched,” said Parker of Copper. “You root for her because she’s a good person. She gives us a lift when we need it on the biggest stage showing the world what we already knew in practice every day.”
The Sky didn’t slow down in the second quarter. They pushed the ball in transition with Allie Quigley and Stefanie Dolson getting easy points in the paint to force a Mercury timeout as the Sky extended the lead to 25-11 with 7:20 left in the second quarter. Copper continued the Sky’s scoring barrage with two three-point play in just a minute of play to put them up 35-16. She capped off the brilliant first half with another basket to put the Sky up 46-24 at the half.
The 22-point halftime lead matched the biggest ever in the WNBA Finals, equaling the mark held by Phoenix which the Mercury did in 2014 in Game 1 against Chicago. That year was the last time either team had been in the championship round.
“We got our butts kicked tonight,” Phoenix coach Sandy Brondello said. “It’s disappointing. They were really, really aggressive. We still got some open looks and missed them. We lost momentum and they grew a lot of confidence. It rattled us a little bit. We’ve got to be better.”
Quigley finished with nine points and Courtney Vandersloot ended the game with 10 assists for Chicago.
The Sky hosted the WNBA Finals for the first time since they played in the finals in 2014 . But on Friday, it featured more star power led by Parker, who starred at west suburban Naperville Central High School before jumping into the national spotlight at Tennessee then continuing her legacy in the WNBA. She joined the Sky before the 2021 season and she is now one win away from completing a remarkable homecoming.
At the end of the press conference, Taurasi made light of a reporter’s question regarding the Mercury final score total of 50 points.
“50? I hope so we can’t be any worst than 50. ”We will be better than 50,” said Taurasi.
Phoenix shot a WNBA Finals record low 25.8% from the field (16-for-62) while Chicago was an even 50% (30-for-60).
FACES IN THE CROWD
The Sky played their best game of season in front of a sold out crowd that included Chicago Bears starting quarterback Justin Fields and hip hop artist Chance The Rapper.. NBA commissioner Adam Silver was in attendance, along with Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker and DePaul women’s head coach Doug Bruno.
Sitting one win away from a championship, Wade reflected on the position he is in as a Black head coach. “I think about it. This is something we can’t escape. We have to represent. The world is a little bit unfair to us the way we’re represented and the way we’re looked at and the chances that we don’t get. You always have to protect yourself at all times.”
Wade would be the third Black male coach to win a WNBA title, joining Michael Cooper who did it with the Los Angeles Sparks and Corey Gaines, who did it with Phoenix.
“You get proud of these moments. Sometimes I have to act like I am supposed to be here,”Wade said. “Even though life has told me that I’m not. It means a lot. It means a lot that my son is here and he gets to see his daddy coach in front of a lot of fans just cheering and he gets to see success so maybe in 15 years it won’t be a big deal for him,”
More AP women’s basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/womens-basketball and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.