WNBA Playoffs 2022 Semi-Final Preview: (2) Chicago Sky vs. (3) Connecticut Sun

For the second straight year, the Chicago Sky and Connecticut Sun will face off in the Semi-Final round of the WNBA Playoffs with a trip to the Finals on the line. Game 1 of the best-of-five series tips off Sunday at 8:00 p.m. on ESPN2 from Wintrust Arena in Chicago.

Last season, it was the sixth-seeded Sky that upset the top-seeded Sun in four games to advance to the Finals, where they defeated the Phoenix Mercury to win their first championship in franchise history. This year, Chicago enters the Semi-Finals as the higher seed and will have home-court advantage as they try to return to the Finals and defend their title.

Can Connecticut avenge last year’s loss and take a page out of Chicago’s playbook from 2021: pull off the upset in the Semi-Finals, advance to the Finals, and win that elusive first championship?

SERIES SCHEDULE

  • Game 1: Connecticut Sun at Chicago Sky; Sunday Aug. 28; ESPN2, 8:00 PM ET
  • Game 2: Connecticut Sun at Chicago Sky; Wednesday Aug. 31; ESPN2, 8:00 PM ET
  • Game 3: Chicago Sky at Connecticut Sun; Sunday Sept. 4; ESPN2, 1:00 PM ET
  • Game 4*: Chicago Sky at Connecticut Sun; Tuesday Sept. 6; ESPN2, Time TBD
  • Game 5*: Connecticut Sun at Chicago Sky; Thursday Sept. 8; ESPN2, Time TBD

* if necessary

HOW THEY GOT HERE

Chicago

  • Earned the No. 2 seed in the WNBA Playoffs with a 26-10 regular season record and losing the head-to-head tiebreaker to the Las Vegas Aces
  • Defeated the New York Liberty in the first round, 2-1

Connecticut

  • Earned the No. 3 seed in the WNBA Playoffs with a 25-11 regular season record
  • Defeated the Dallas Wings in the first round, 2-1

SEASON SERIES (Chicago 4, Connecticut 0)

This season series was a lot closer than the 4-0 Chicago sweep would suggest. The first two games in June were decided by eight points and four points, respectively. In their two most recent meetings in late July and early August, both games were decided by three points, including one that needed overtime to determine a winner.

There is something to be said for Chicago finding success in tightly contested games. During the regular season, the Sky led the WNBA with 15 wins in games featuring clutch time – when the score is within five points during the final five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime. Chicago was 15-8 (.652) in such games, while Connecticut finished 9-7 (.563).

Candace Parker appeared in three of the four games and led the Sky with 20.3 points, 8.7 rebounds, 5.7 assists, 2.7 3-pointers made and 2.7 blocks per game. Parker shot 56% from the field and 62% from 3-point range as Chicago outscored the Sun by 32 points in her 100 minutes on the court in the series.

Chicago had five players average double figures in scoring against the Sun: Kahleah Copper (14.8 ppg), Emma Meesseman (13.8 ppg), Courtney Vandersloot (13.3 ppg, team-high 7.8 apg) and Allie Quigley (12.0 ppg) as they had a different leading scorer in all four regular season games against Connecticut.

Alyssa Thomas’ all-around game shined for the Sun in this matchup as she led Connecticut in scoring at 18 points per game while adding 6.0 rebounds, 5.8 assists and 2.0 steals in a series-high 36.1 minutes per game. Jonquel Jones averaged a double-double with 14.8 points and 10.0 rebounds per game. Similar to Chicago, Connecticut had five players average in double figures that appeared in more than one matchup with DeWanna Bonner (16.8 ppg), Brionna Jones (15.3 ppg) and Courtney Williams (10.8) rounding out the five.

Tale of the Tape: Regular Season Head-to-Head Matchups

When looking at team stat comparison from the season series, one category immediately drew a double take: the Sun averaged nearly 20 more shot attempts per game in this series (81.3 per game) compared to the Sky (61.8 per game).

There are three key contributing factors to this disparity:

  1. The Sky shot the lights out in this series: 56 FG%, 42 3P%, 94 FT%. That’s a true shooting percentage of 66.2% — their best against any opponent this season by nearly seven percentage points (59.6% vs. Indiana was second).
  2. The Sun struggled with their shots as their 49.5% true shooting percentage was their lowest against any opponent this season. But the Sun made up for those missed shots by crashing the offensive glass, averaging nearly 13 offensive rebounds per game and created 16.3 second-chance points per game.
  3. The Sky averaged 18.3 turnovers per game – their second-highest against any opponent this season – so Chicago had plenty of possessions without a field goal attempt, compared to Connecticut at just under 12 turnovers per game.

THREE STORYLINES TO WATCH

Can Connecticut’s defense slow down Chicago’s offense?

The Sun finished the regular season with the league’s second-ranked defense, holding opponents to just 96.3 points per 100 possessions. However, in four games against Chicago this season, that Sun defense allowed 109.0 points per 100 possessions and a true shooting percentage of 66.2%.

Only three Chicago players shot lower than 50% against the Sun this season: Azura’ Stevens and Julie Allemand at 44.4% and Courtney Vandersloot at 48.7%. In contrast, the Sun had only thre players shoot at least 50% against the Sky: Brionna Jones (56.8%), Odyssey Sims (55.6% in just one game) and Alyssa Thomas (50.0%).

Considering that these teams were separated by just 18 total points over four games this season, a few key stops could have turned a sweep into a split.

Title Defense vs. First Title

The Sky are attempting to accomplish something that hasn’t not been done in the WNBA in two decades: successfully defend the championship. The last team to win back-to-back titles was the Los Angeles Sparks in 2001 and 2002.

Over the past 20 years, only five defending champions have even made it back to the Finals, and they all came up short in the championship series: 2006 Sacramento Monarchs, 2007 Detroit Shock, 2012 Minnesota Lynx, 2016 Minnesota Lynx and 2017 Los Angeles Sparks. The Sky are three wins away from a return trip to the Finals and six wins away from joining the 2001-02 Sparks and the 1997-2000 Houston Comets as the only teams to successfully defend the WNBA title.

Meanwhile, the Sun are still in search of that elusive first WNBA title. Connecticut has reached the Finals three times – 2004 vs. Seattle, 2005 vs. Sacramento and 2019 vs. Washington – but have yet to hoist the championship trophy.

Nearly half of the players from Connecticut’s most recent trip to the Finals – a five-game battle with the Mystics – remain on the Sun roster today: Natisha Hiedeman, Brionna Jones, Jonquel Jones, Alyssa Thomas, Jasmine Thomas (out due to an ACL tear) and Courtney Williams. The core of this team feels it has unfinished business and now find themselves three wins away from being able to get back to the Finals and finish the job.

Does Familiarity Breed Contempt?

Chicago and Connecticut not only met in last year’s Semi-Finals (when the Sky ended the Sun’s season), they also met in the single-elimination first round in 2020 (when the Sun ended the Sky’s season).

Rivalries and built in the playoffs and a third straight clash between these teams in the postseason should add an extra dash of intensity to an already combustible situation.

Combining the regular season and postseason, the Sky hold a 10-4 advantage over the Sun in head-to-head meetings since the start of the 2020 season, including a 7-1 edge over the past eight meetings.

Can the Sky continue this recent stretch of success against the Sun, or will Connecticut find a way to exact revenge for last year’s Semi-Final loss and end Chicago’s season for the second time in three seasons?

INJURY REPORT

The Sun enter this series without two of their leading guards: Jasmine Thomas and Bria Hartley, who are both out for the season with ACL tears suffered during the regular season.

ONE STAT TO WATCH

With three of their four meetings this season being decided by four points or less, we can expect to see plenty of clutch time in this series.

During the regular season, no team played more clutch games (23) or more clutch minutes (104) than the Sky, and they delivered with the league’s top clutch point differential (plus-61). Connecticut’s 16 clutch games and 54 clutch minutes were the third lowest in the league, but they still posted the third-best point differential (plus-12).

On an individual level, Chicago had three of the to seven clutch scorers in the league:  Courtney Vandersloot (57 points, 3rd), Candace Parker (44 points, 5th) and Kahleah Copper (42 points, tied for 6th). Connecticut was led by its frontline in the clutch with Alyssa Thomas (26 points), Bonner (23 points) and Jonquel Jones (21 points on 61.5% shooting) leading the way.

The team that executes the best when the game is on the line and the players that can knock down shots when the pressure is at its peak could determine the outcome of this series.

THE PICK

Chicago in five games. These teams have played one another eight times in the past 11 months and Chicago has gone 7-1 in those games. That is a hard fact to ignore when considering which team will be the first to earn three wins over the next 12 days.

Of course, by picking the Sky, I’ve added more disrespect fuel to the Sun’s collective competitive fire. As a team, Connecticut plays with a chip on it shoulder with a desire to quiet doubters on their way to success. They have a prime chance to do so in this series as they look to knock off the defending champs on their way back to the Finals.

Longtime WNBA reporter Brian Martin writes articles on WNBA.com throughout the season. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the WNBA or its clubs.