After splitting the first two games in Phoenix, the 2021 WNBA Finals shifted to Chicago for a pivotal Game 3 on Friday night. In front of a sellout crowd at Wintrust Arena, the Sky dominated the Mercury on both ends of the court as they led by 22 at the half and finished with a Finals record 36-point win to take a 2-1 series lead.
Let’s dig into the numbers behind Chicago’s historic win with a look inside the box score.
Records and Milestones
• Chicago’s 36-point margin of victory over Phoenix set the new WNBA Finals record. The previous mark was 33 points, set by Seattle in a 92-59 win over Las Vegas in Game 1 of the 2020 WNBA Finals.
• Chicago’s 22-point first half lead tied the highest in WNBA Finals history. Ironically, the record was first set by Phoenix as they led Chicago by 22 points at the half of Game 1 of the 2014 WNBA Finals.
• Courtney Vandersloot has recorded the most assists in a single postseason (87) in WNBA history. She also became the first player to record double figure assists in three consecutive Finals games in the same series, and four-straight games spanning back to the 2014 WNBA Finals. Her 10 double-digit assist games in the postseason is the most all-time, breaking a tie with Sue Bird. Additionally, Vandersloot now ranks fourth all-time in career postseason assists (239).
• Diana Taurasi became just the third player in WNBA history to record 300 or more career Finals points, joining Maya Moore (441) and Seimone Augustus (362).
• Candace Parker is now tied with Maya Moore for second all-time in WNBA Playoffs history with 378 made field goals. They trail only Diana Taurasi (474).
• Phoenix shot a WNBA Finals record low 25.8% from the field (16-for-62) while Chicago was an even 50% (30-for-60).
• Since the WNBA Playoffs went to a best-of-five format in 2005, there have been seven sweeps, while each of the other nine series were tied at 1-1 after two games (this year is the 10th). The winner of Game 3 has gone on to win the Finals five out of those nine times (55.6% of the time). Two of the four times that a team has lost Game 3 and gone on to win the series in five were by the Phoenix Mercury (2007, 2009).
• Kahleah Copper scored a game-high 22 points on 6-10 shooting from the field, 2-3 from 3-point range and 8-8 from the free throw line in just 24 minutes. She scored 20 of those points in the first half as she single-handedly outscored the Mercury starting lineup 20-17 as the Sky built a 22-point halftime lead.
• Candace Parker finished with 13 points, four rebounds and three assists in 24 minutes, while Courtney Vandersloot dished out 10 assists with only two turnovers in 25 minutes.
• Diamond DeShields finished with 11 points, five rebounds and five steals in 24 minutes off the Sky bench after she had scored only two points in the first two games of the series combined. She is only the second player to post at least 10 points, five rebounds and five steals in under 25 minutes on court in playoff history.
• Brittney Griner was the only Mercury player to reach double figures in scoring as she finished with 16 points on 7-17 shooting, but had only two rebounds and one block in her 30 minutes. While Griner shot 41.2% from the field, the rest of her teammates combined to shoot just 9-45 (20%) from the field.
• Diana Taurasi finished with playoff career lows in points (five) and field goals made (one) as she shot just 1-10 from the field and 1-8 from 3-point range in her 25 minutes on the court.
• Chicago’s 45.6 net rating (outscoring Phoenix by 45.6 points per 100 possessions) is the highest mark in the WNBA Playoffs since at least 2001 (data not available from 1997-2000). Three Sky starters finished with net ratings above 50: Kahleah Copper (54.8 in 24 minutes), Azura’ Stevens (53.5 in 19 minutes) and Courtney Vandersloot (51.7 in 25 minutes).
Highest Net Rating, WNBA Playoffs, Since 2001
45.6: CHI vs. PHX, 10/15/2021 (Game 3)*Finals
43.4: PHX vs. TUL, 09/17/2015 (Game 1)
43.1: WAS vs. LAS, 08/23/2018 (Game 1)
41.9: SAC vs. HOU, 08/19/2006 (Game 2)
41.7: LAS vs. SAC, 08/27/2001 (Game 3)
40.2: SEA vs. LVA, 10/06/2020 (Game 3)*Finals
40.0: LAS vs. CHA, 09/01/2001 (Game 2)*Finals
• Phoenix finished Game 3 with an effective field goal percentage of 29.8%. Their previous low in this postseason was 45.6% against Seattle on Sept. 26 and their previous low for the entire season was 37.3% against Dallas on June 11.
• Both teams turned the ball over frequently during the first quarter (CHI 6, PHX 5) and in the first half overall (PHX 10, CHI 8). The key to Chicago’s 22-point halftime lead is that they took advantage of Phoenix’s mistakes, scoring 14 points off those 10 turnovers, while the Mercury scored no points of the Sky’s eight turnovers. The Sky finished the game with a 22-7 advantage in points off turnovers.
• The Sky had an even greater advantage in points in the paint as they led at the end of the first half 24-2 and finished the game with a 36-14 edge. Candace Parker and Brittney Griner led their respective teams with 10 points in the paint each. They were followed by Copper with eight points, as well as Stevens, Vandersloot and Ruthy Hebard with four points apiece.
• The Sky outscored the Mercury 10-2 in fast break points, with Diamond DeShields accounting for half of the Sky’s total. Chicago constantly looked to push the pace against the Mercury and were able to get some easy looks in transition.
• Kahleah Copper scored 36.4% of her points from 2-point range (all inside the paint), another 36.4% from the free throw line and 27.3% from 3-point range as she gave Mercury defenders fits all night. With her ability to shoot the three, defenders have to stay close enough to contest that shot, but when they get too close, Copper uses her blow-by speed to drive to the basket for layups and and-ones (she had two on the night).
• The Sky assisted on 73.3% of their made field goals (22 of 30) in Game 3, which is a near 20 percentage point jump from their Game 2 loss.
• While Candace Parker is known for her all-around game, she focused much of her offense in the paint in Game 3 as she accounted for 76.9% of Chicago’s points in the paint while she was on the court.
• Diana Taurasi leads all playoff players (min. 2 games played, 10 minutes per game) in highest percentage of field goal attempts coming from 3-point range (76.1%) and she continued that trend in Game 3 with 80% of her shots coming from beyond the arc. This was only the second game of the season (regular and playoffs) that Taurasi was held without a 2-point field goal made – both have come against Chicago.
• Kahleah Copper led the Sky in scoring (22 points) but finished third in usage rate (26.3%), which is a credit to her efficiency on the night as she needed only 10 field goal attempts and eight free throw attempts to get her 22 points. She attempted only 28.6% of Chicago’s shots, but did account for 88.9% of the Sky’s free throws while she was on the court.
• Courtney Vandersloot’s 9.4% usage rate is her lowest of the postseason and matched her lowest mark of the regular season. Vandersloot has been masterful at knowing when to create shots for her teammates and when it is time to call her own number throughout the playoffs and particularly in this series. In Game 3, she attempted only three shots and dished out 10 assists.
• After finishing Game 2 with only four free throw attempts (and a free throw rate of 0.050), the Sky earned 22 free throws in Game 3 (making 18) for a free throw rate of 0.367, which is their postseason high.
• The Sky finished the regular season ranked sixth in both defensive efficiency (99.4) and opponent effective field goal percentage (48.0%). But in Game 3, they posted a defensive rating of 67.6 and allowed Phoenix an effective field goal percentage of just 29.8%. That is nearly 11 percentage points lower than the Sky have allowed to any opponent this postseason (CON 40.6% on Sept. 28).
• Phoenix grabbed 26.1% of available offensive rebounds and converted those extended possessions into 10 second-chance points – outscoring the Sky 10-5 on the night.
• Both of Chicago’s wins in this series have come in games with few ties or lead changes: just one tie and one lead change in Game 1 and zero ties and one lead change early in Game 3. Phoenix won the tightly contested Game 2, which featured 12 ties and nine lead changes.
• The Sky led Game 1 by as many as 23 points and Game 3 by as many as 36 (the final margin of victory). The Mercury have yet to hold a double-digit lead in the series (9 points in Game 1, 6 points in Game 2 and just 2 points in Game 3).
• The Sky’s starting five outscored the Mercury’s starters 54-31 in Game 3 as they shot 57.1% from the field, 66.7% from 3-point range and 100% from the free throw line. Chicago also had the edge in bench scoring (32-19) as both teams leaned on their reserves for much of the fourth quarter.
• This postseason, the Mercury are 3-0 following a loss (Games 2 and 5 vs. Las Vegas in the semifinals, and Game 2 in the Finals) and 3-0 in elimination games (first two single-elimination rounds and Game 5 vs. Las Vegas in the semifinals). And as she stated in her postgame interview, Candace Parker is 0-2 in the WNBA Finals in Game 4 with a chance to clinch a championship at home.