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Copper, Sky Finish Off Fairy-Tale Title in Comeback Win

After 16 years, Chicago sealed its first WNBA championship with a typical top-to-bottom team performance.

CHICAGO — For four bruising games, Sky forward Kahleah Copper was in perpetual motion. Like a pinball pinging off of any defenders in her way, she bounced off all those she contacted, finishing countless contested layups around the basket, all while pressing an internal turbo button to accelerate past Phoenix defenders who tried stopping her in transition. But with 10.4 seconds to go in Sunday’s Game 4 against the Mercury, Copper meandered slowly to the hash marks surrounding the paint as Courtney Vandersloot prepared to shoot two series-sealing free throws. The 6’1’’ forward was the last of her teammates to get settled in around the line. Copper had earned a few seconds to slow down, and let the moment sink in.

Seconds later as the final buzzer sounded with the scoreline showing Sky 80, Mercury 74, Copper, not surprisingly, accelerated again. This time, though, she didn't sprint past any Phoenix players, but instead to the massive logo in the middle of Wintrust Arena. As yellow and blue confetti rained from the rafters, she first hugged reserve center Astou Ndour-Fall, who sprinted out to mid-court, before rejoicing with the rest of her teammates.

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Copper did not play her best game of the series on Sunday afternoon, finishing her team’s victory with just 10 points on five-of-13 shooting. But there would have been no confetti, no champagne, no Sky celebration without her. For her efforts, Copper was named Finals MVP.

“When something’s not going, she has other aspects that she brings to the game,” Chicago forward Candace Parker said pregame. “It doesn’t matter if her shot’s not falling. It’s her energy. It’s her effort.”

For much of Sunday's contest it appeared as if the Mercury were going to send the series back to Phoenix. As they jogged to the halftime locker room leading 44—37, sharp-shooting Mercury guard Sophie Cunningham high-fived her teammates, saying, “we got this, we got this,” as a sellout home crowd was rendered relatively silent. Phoenix pushed its lead to 14 with 3:16 left in the third quarter and even withstood a 9—0 Chicago run toward the end of the frame. But the Sky would remain within striking distance.

It is not news that Parker, a Naperville, Ill. native, was on a quest to win a  championship in her first year back in her hometown. But lost in Parker’s fairytale was one involving Allie Quigley, the franchise’s second-longest tenured player. Quigley, a native of Joliet, Ill., was one of just two Sky players on the 2014 team that was swept by the Mercury in the Finals. She too was seeking to win at home and had averaged 15.3 points through the first three games of this year's. However, she converted just seven of her 24 three-point attempts heading into Game 4.

On Sunday, one of the league’s best shooters returned to form, igniting a crowd that was eager to celebrate. Trailing by nine entering the fourth quarter, she hit two three-pointers in the first 90 seconds of the frame. She went on to finish the series’s last quarter with 11 points en route to a playoff career-high 26.

“For every off shooting game that she has, the next game is potentially going to be an explosive game,” Sky coach James Wade said. “You never see a shooter stay cold like that.”

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As Quiqley prepared to meet reporters following the victory, she placed a glass of champagne on the dais. It didn’t stay up there long, though, as her backcourt mate and wife, Courtney Vandersloot, promptly moved it to the podium’s floor.

“We did this for each other,” Quiqley said, sitting next to not only Vandersloot, but also Copper and Parker. “In the end, we wanted to play for each other, and that’s what you saw tonight.”

With 1:57 to go in the game and the Sky trailing by three, Vandersloot found Parker open, atop the left side of the three-point arc. The 35-year-old didn’t hesitate, and sank the biggest three-pointer of her season. She turned toward the crowd as the orange and white striped basketball fell through the cylinder, basking in the moment for a had long-yearned for a WNBA title.

The key to Chicago’s success all series was their multitude of weapons. And in the contest's waning minutes, it was reserve center Stefanie Dolson who made the franchise’s biggest baskets. Dolson slipped backdoor for a wide-open layup with 1:22 to play, giving the Sky a two-point advantage and their first lead since the 2:16 mark of the second quarter. Less than 30 seconds later, Dolson sunk a floater over the outstretched reach of Brittney Griner that pushed the Sky’s lead to four. The Mercury would not recover.

“This is how you make household names in your city,” Wade said. "People are going to go around, they're going to know who Sloot is, they're going to know who Kah is. They already know who Candace is, but there's so many stories out there on the floor that are unique, that represent Chicago and what they mean to the city and what the city means to them.”

Griner led Phoenix Sunday with a team-high 28 points, and was instrumental in the game remaining as close as it was. Fellow first-teamer Skylar Diggins-Smith added 16 points and three-time WNBA champion Diana Taurasi recorded 16 as well, but Taurasi’s two free throws with 42.3 seconds to play were her team’s lone two points in what turned out to be the last 4:22 of the series.

Just over 10 minutes after the formal postgame trophy celebrations had concluded, after Queen's "We are the Champions" had been sung by those in attendance, Copper sprinted over toward her team’s bench, Finals MVP trophy in hand, in search of a bottle of water. She certainly deserved that drink, and all the champagne that followed. She was, for the first-time, a WNBA champion.

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