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Sky Poised to Finish Off WNBA Finals After Blowout Game 3 Victory

Chicago's swarming defense and plethora of offensive weapons were far too much for Phoenix to handle in Game 3. It may be enough to close out this series in a hurry.

CHICAGO – How ugly was Game 3 of the WNBA Finals for the Phoenix Mercury?

“It was ugly as hell,” guard Skylar Diggins-Smith said.

Come on. You can do better. More descriptive.

“They kicked our ass,” Diggins-Smith said.

Keep going.

“You just gotta flush that one,” Phoenix coach Sandy Brondello said.

That sounds like a good plan. But what if they look down in Game 4 and … well … Game 3 is still stuck in the bowl and the water is filling up to the rim? Hey, we’ve all been there.

The Chicago Sky are one win from their first championship. They can get it here Sunday afternoon before an arena full of Chicagoans smart enough not to watch the Bears play the Packers. It is possible that the Mercury, a proud and talented team, will find a way to win Game 4 and force a deciding game in Phoenix. It feels equally likely that the halftime entertainment for Game 4 will be the Sky’s championship parade.

The final score here was Chicago 86, Phoenix 50. It was exactly that close, and nothing about it felt fluky. Chicago swarms on defense and moves symphonically on offense. These two teams have played three WNBA Finals games but only one meaningful second half. Phoenix managed to win Game 2 in overtime, but the other two games were Chicago blowouts.

“Today, honestly, nothing worked,” Phoenix star Diana Taurasi said. “Inside, outside—they just took us out of everything we wanted to run.”

Taurasi, who produced some classic Taurasi magic in Game 2, spent Game 3 looking like she was trying to light a wet match. She fired up wide-open threes and missed. She rebounded her own miss, drove for a layup and missed. She briefly tried to climb inside Chicago guard Kahleah Copper’s head and missed that, too.

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Taurasi is an all-time great, but she is 39; she will put up some duds, and this was a big one. She finished 1-for-10 from the field. But hey, at least she got into the arena for free, which put her in a prime spot to watch the Kahleah Copper Show.

Kahleah-Copper

Copper scored 20 points in the first half. One sequence is all the play-by-play you need. Copper hit a three to make it 30–16. Allie Quigley hit a long almost-three. Then Candace Parker found Copper on a break, and Copper on a break is one of the great joys of today’s WNBA, unless you’re the poor sap between her and the rim. She scored, got fouled by Diggins-Smith, and made the free throw. Chicago led by 19. This may have been when Brondello started thinking about toilets.

“It would have been nice to make a couple of shots here and there, as a group,” Taurasi said. “It is the game of basketball. It is about putting the ball in the hole.”

Can Phoenix win two straight? One is inclined to say yeah, sure, why not … but Chicago has only lost twice in nine postseason games. Both came on the road. Phoenix needs a big performance from Brittney Griner (always likely, though she struggled in this one) and another big one from Diggins-Smith (could go either way—she is a great player who has had a rough series) and Taurasi to play well, and to ignore the crowd and the feeling of impending doom and … well, even that might not be enough.

The Sky were not just the better team in Game 3. They have clearly been the best team in this series. Will Chicago will be nervous or overconfident in Game 4? Nervous, maybe. Overconfident, highly unlikely. They were so annoyed by their performance in Game 2 that they came out sprinting in Game 3. The Mercury showed one sign of life, scoring five straight in the second quarter, and then Chicago’s Allie Quigley decided that was enough of that. She drove hard to the rim and drew contact. She hit both free throws. That was it. By the time this one ended, the Sky were already guarding against any kind of letdown.

“They’re a great team,” Parker said. “If we think it’s gonna be easy, that’s a lie.”

Chicago has some distinct matchup advantages. Nobody on Phoenix has been able to guard Copper. The Sky are quicker and deeper, and crucially, their defense is feeding their offense. That makes Chicago resistant to the kind of offensive slump that hit the Mercury in Game 3.

Taurasi, who once scored 47 points in a game herself, marveled at her team’s anemic output in this one.

“Fifty!” she said. “We’ll be better than 50. Go to Vegas with that one.”

They will be better than 50. Being better than Chicago is going to be much, much harder.

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