On Sunday, the WNBA season concluded with the Chicago Sky winning the Championship after an incredible 4th quarter performance that saw them outscore the Phoenix Mercury 26-11. The Sky won the game 80-74 to secure their first WNBA title. Chicago won the series 3-1 and clinched the championship on their home court in front of a raucous crowd at Wintrust Arena in the Windy City.
Allie Quigley led the Sky in the deciding game with 26 points on 9-14 FG shooting including 5-10 from 3-PT range. Quigley also had five rebounds. Her wife, Courtney Vandersloot, had a near triple-double with 10 points, 15 assists, and nine rebounds. Candace Parker also had a double-double with 16 points and 12 rebounds. Kahleah Copper added 10 points and Stefanie Dolson contributed with eight points off the bench. Four of Dolson’s points came in the final 90 seconds of the game which helped push the Sky ahead of the Mercury for good securing the team’s first championship.
Brittney Griner was the best player in these WNBA Finals but she didn’t get enough help overall from her teammates. Griner finished with 28 points and seven rebounds leading all scorers. Skylar Diggins-Smith (16 points, eight assists) and Diana Taurasi (16 points) were the only other players for Phoenix to score in double figures. Despite scoring 16 points, Taurasi did not have a great game. She shot the ball poorly going 4-16 from the floor in this game. She also argued with the refs all game long receiving a technical foul early in the game.
With Kia Nurse sidelined for these Finals after suffering a torn ALC in Game 4 against Las Vegas, the Mercury just didn’t have enough depth to compete with the Sky. The Mercury’s lack of bench contributions has been an issue all season long (if not multiple seasons now in Phoenix) and that was still a problem in this series.
The most frustrating thing if you’re in the Phoenix Mercury camp is that they had full control of this game. They were leading after the first quarter, at the half, and entering the 4th and final period. But they were not able to hang onto that lead which would have forced a 5th and deciding game on the Mercury’s home court. Phoenix did not make another field goal in the game after the 4:42 mark of the fourth quarter. Only scoring on a pair of free throws by Taurasi near the very end of the game. Phoenix led by nine points to begin the final period and still held a seven-point lead with under five minutes to play. But over the course of those five minutes, they were outscored 15-2 by the Chicago Sky.
Chicago had struggled with their shot all game long but finally started executing, getting transition baskets, converting opportunities down low, and hitting threes. Meanwhile, Phoenix missed multiple layups at point-blank range. As the seconds on the clock were winding down, Candace Parker had tears running down her face. The Chicago kid had completed a storybook ending. She left the Los Angeles Sparks in free agency and helped bring a WNBA Championship to her hometown. These moments are why sports are so incredible. Hollywood couldn’t script it any better than that!
Let’s take a look at how the series played out over the course of four games and what’s next for these two franchises moving forward.
Game 1: Chicago 91 at Phoenix 77
Six Sky players scored in double figures led by Kahlean Copper who had 21 points and 10 rebounds. Allie Quigley added 18 points and Candace Parker finished with 16 points and eight rebounds. Courtney Vandersloot had a double-double with 12 points and 11 assists. Azura Stevens (10 points, eight rebounds) and Stefanie Dolson (14 points) were the other players to reach double digits. The Sky shot 53% (36-68) while holding Phoenix to just 44% (27-62).
The Phoenix Mercury were led by their Big 3 of Brittney Griner, Skylar Diggins-Smith, and Diana Taurasi. Griner led the way with 20 points and six rebounds. Taurasi finished with 17 points and Diggins-Smith added 15 points. No other Mercury player scored in double figures.
Game 2: Chicago 86 at Phoenix 91 in OT
It took overtime but the Mercury responded well in Game 2 evening the series at 1-1. Phoenix was once again led by their Big 3. Brittney Griner had a monster game with 29 points and nine rebounds. Diana Taurasi finished with 20 points and Skylar Diggins-Smith added 13 points, 12 assists, and seven rebounds. Shey Peddy also had a great game off the bench adding 10 points and five assists. Phoenix also got solid contributions from Brianna Turner (eight points, nine rebounds, three steals, two blocks) and Sophie Cunningham (nine points, five rebounds).
Courtney Vandersloot was Chicago’s best player in this game with 20 points and 14 assists. Allie Quigley added 19 points and six rebounds. Kahleah Copper contributed with 15 points and nine rebounds. Candace Parker rounded out the group with 13 points and nine rebounds in the losing effort.
Game 3: Phoenix 50 at Chicago 86
This one was not close! In fact, the 36-point victory by Chicago was actually the largest margin of victory in WNBA Finals history surpassing the Seattle Storm’s 33-point victory over the Las Vegas Aces last season in which Seattle clinched their 4th WNBA Championship.
This game was the Chicago Sky at their very best. Incredible defense with strong balanced scoring from every spot on the court. Kahleah Copper led the team again with 22 points. Copper scored 20 points in the first half alone. Chicago led by 22 points at the midway point (46-24) and never looked back. All 11 Sky players scored at least once with seven players scoring at least five points or more. Candace Parker had 13 points and Diamond DeShields added 11 points off the bench. Chicago shot 50% FG (30-60) and 44% (8-18) from beyond the arc.
Only Brittney Griner scored in double figures for Phoenix and even her performance was lackluster by her standards. She finished with 16 points and just two rebounds in 30 minutes of action. Diggins-Smith was held to just seven points and Taurasi managed just five points on 1-10 FG shooting.
Game 4: Phoenix 74 at Chicago 80
The Mercury led almost this entire game. As mentioned above they were leading after the first, second, and third quarters. They just couldn’t close things out and collapsed late in the game. Phoenix players declined to speak with the media after the game and there was a report that Diana Taurasi broke part of a door in the visitor’s locker room out of frustration after it was all over.
Phoenix led by as many as 14 points in the 2nd half but the Sky managed to cut the lead to five late in the third period. Excellent plays by Phoenix to close out the quarter pushed the Mercury’s lead back up to nine as the teams prepared for the final period. Things looked good for Phoenix five minutes into the 4th quarter as they still maintained a seven-point lead. That’s when things started to unravel. The Mercury’s depth has been an issue and their players ran out of gas before the very end. Chicago used a 15-2 run to close out the game and secure a championship.
Shey Peddy was held scoreless in this game. Sophie Cunningham had just three points and took just one shot in 25 minutes. The Mercury needed just one more player to step up beyond Griner, Taurasi, and Diggins-Smith and they weren’t able to get it.
For Chicago, this game was won due to their superior depth and Allie Quigley’s three-point shooting. Quigley made five of Chicago’s seven three-pointers in this ballgame. Without her, the team would be flying back to Phoenix for Game 5.
What’s Next For These Teams?
The defending champions had a very impressive run to their first WNBA title. They eliminated the Dallas Wings, Minnesota Lynx, Connecticut Sun, and the Phoenix Mercury on their way to the championship.
Chicago’s front office will have a lot of work to do this offseason. The new defending champions have just four players under contract for next season. Those players are Candace Parker, Azura Stevens, Ruthy Hebard, and Dana Evans.
Chicago has five players that are Unrestricted Free Agents including three of their starters. Those players are Courtney Vandersloot, Allie Quigley, Kahleah Copper, Stefanie Dolson, and Astou Ndour-Fall. They also have two more players that are Restricted Free Agents in Diamond DeShields and Lexie Brown.
Unrestricted Free Agents means those players can go sign with any WNBA team that they so choose. The team is able to match an offer for a Restricted Free Agent by another team if they want to match the money and retain that player.
Chicago also has the option to use the Core Designation on one of their UFA players. If they use that I would expect them to core Kahleah Copper. After winning the WNBA Finals MVP award, Copper is going to cash in on a huge contract. It’ll most likely be for over $200,000 (max or near max deal). I fully expect the Chicago Sky to retain her.
Around the WNBA Twitterverse (outside of Seattle), I know a lot of people are pushing for Jewell Loyd to go home to Chicago. Just as Candace Parker did during the 2021 offseason. But I have a hard time believing Chicago’s front office staff would go that route. Because if they did, it would mean they either wouldn’t be signing Kahleah Copper (allowing her to leave Chicago) or they’d have to be willing to let both Courtney Vandersloot and Allie Quigley go.
Things can always change, but after winning the WNBA Championship I would expect Chicago to look to retain as many of their core pieces as possible and try to run it back and hope to win another title in 2022.
I believe the Sky can retain Quigley, Vandersloot, and Copper and bring back their starting five with Parker and Stevens. However, they may end up losing some depth. I think it’s possible Stefanie Dolson could sign a big contract somewhere else. And I also think it’s possible Diamond DeShields signs with a different franchise and Chicago opts not to match the deal in order to keep Copper, Vandersloot, and Quigley.
One area that should help Chicago is the WNBA Draft. Because the Sky had a disappointing regular season finishing 16-16 and the 6th overall seed in the league, they will have the 7th overall pick. Where they might be able to add some more depth in case they do lose a player or two to free agency.
Like Chicago, the Mercury really hit their stride in the WNBA Playoffs. They barely got past the first two rounds as they edged the New York Liberty in Round 1 by just a single point (83-82). Then they needed OT to beat a short-handed Seattle Storm team (85-80). But then they shocked the WNBA world by upsetting the Las Vegas Aces in the semifinals. Diana Taurasi and the Mercury made one last epic run during their quest for a 4th WNBA Championship. Phoenix was looking to become the 4th franchise in league history to win four titles following the Houston Comets, Minnesota Lynx, and Seattle Storm. But it wasn’t meant to be.
There should be a lot of hope for Phoenix, however. Brittney Griner is playing the best basketball of her WNBA career. Skylar Diggins-Smith really found her groove this season in Phoenix and was also named to the All-WNBA 1st team (alongside Griner). Both of these players are in their primes and should be the foundation the Mercury builds around moving forward.
The challenge will be building around them and the team may have limited resources to do so. A huge question mark will be whether or not Diana Taurasi decides to retire. She is currently signed through the 2022 season to a guaranteed max contract of $228,094. Similar to Seattle’s situation with Sue Bird, it’s unclear if Taurasi will be back. She still has moments of greatness and maybe it was just the injuries she was dealing with but Taurasi is not the same player she once was. She averaged 14.5 PPG in the Finals but shot just 33% (17-52) from the floor. Her three-point shooting was even worse at 30% (11-37) from beyond the arc.
Taurasi’s large contract isn’t the only one Phoenix has to worry about. Bria Hartley is currently signed to a guaranteed contract of $196,100. Hartley had a breakout season last year in the Wubble averaging nearly 15 PPG before her season came to an end after she tore her ACL. In 2021, Hartley played in just six regular season games coming off that injury. She averaged 3.7 PPG and clearly wasn’t at her very best. Hartley played in eight of the Mercury’s 11 playoff games averaging just 2.0 PPG in about nine minutes of action. Hartley’s contract is guaranteed for next season (2022) so they will have to hope she can return to her 2020 form prior to her ACL injury.
Phoenix also has Kia Vaughn, Brianna Turner, and Megan Walker under contract for next season.
They have just two UFA in Sophie Cunningham and Alanna Smith. Cunningham might be back with the team as she had some strong moments in these playoffs. But Smith has yet to develop into a solid contributor in the WNBA. They did not pick up Smith’s option and the team appears to be ready to move on from her.
Shey Peddy is a Reserved player and has played well enough that I believe Phoenix will retain her.
Kia Nurse is a Restricted Free Agent. The team spent their 2022 first-round draft pick to acquire Nurse this past offseason. But because Nurse tore her ACL so late into this season she may not be ready to play at the start of the 2022 WNBA season. It’ll be interesting to see if Phoenix looks to re-sign her or if any other team would be willing to sign her despite the ACL injury and lengthy rehab process.
The Mercury are in a tough spot because they lack depth but won’t have a lot of money to spend in free agency. And they don’t have their first-round draft pick. They could try to buy out Bria Hartley’s contract similar to what Seattle did with Candice Dupree midway through this season. But outside of that, their best option to give them flexibility would be if Diana Taurasi announces her retirement.
If the team opts not to re-sign Nurse, Cunningham, or Smith they might be able to free up enough cap space to make one big move in free agency or at least a couple of different depth pieces that they can build around Brittney Griner and Skylar Diggins-Smith.
Editor’s Notes: First, a huge credit to Her Hoops Stats that provide salary cap sheets for all 12 WNBA teams. Their website provides data that allows me to write better articles so I’m thankful to them for that.
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