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Sun-Sky Is The Series That Refuses To End Quietly

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - AUGUST 31: Candace Parker #3 of the Chicago Sky drives to the basket against Alyssa Thomas #25 of the Connecticut Sun during the first half in Game Two of the 2022 WNBA Playoffs semifinals at Wintrust Arena on August 31, 2022 in Chicago, Illinois.
Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Just down the hall and to the left from maybe the best WNBA playoff series of all time, some other games have also been taking place. Yes, that’s right: A second, different side of the bracket awaits resolution.

The Connecticut Sun and Chicago Sky are still in the playoffs, which technically did not end Tuesday night with the Aces’ win in Seattle. Earlier that night, the Sun steamrolled the Sky, 104-80, to force a deciding Game 5 in Chicago; they did so playing a much more pleasing style of basketball than is their wont. For one special game, the Sun, a big team without much shooting talent, shed their hard-earned reputation for mucking things up around the basket and actually triumphed without inducing puke from anyone watching.

They hit their shots! They moved the ball! They won pretty! How about that! Head coach Curt Miller has made no secret of the Sun’s path to victory, saying earlier in the series that his team would have to make things “messy” to limit Chicago’s typically humming offense. But on Tuesday night, he seemed OK with this alternate approach. “So much for messy,” Miller said. “That wasn’t messy.” As tempting as it is to wave both these teams away with a Ferris Bueller-style “You’re still here? It’s over. Go home,” after watching Chelsea Gray sink shot after shot as the Aces eliminated the Storm, we’re due to check in and see what the hell is going on over here in this other series:

Miller’s star moment came in Game 3 of the series on Sunday, as Chicago wore down Connecticut’s defense and kept the offense quiet for long stretches. In a mic’d-up huddle, he posed an arch question to his players: “Any suggestion on pro players making a layup? Like, honestly. I’m going to get fired because we can’t make a layup.” Study the Sun’s spacing long enough and you’ll see some “We’re all trying to find the guy who did this” irony in Miller’s lamentation. His lineups invite all five Chicago players to join the Sun in the paint on any given possession, and these are not particularly favorable conditions for making layups. (In that game, Connecticut finished an atrocious 16-for-39 on shots in the restricted area.) The more intriguing story was that the Sun closed out the game with their reigning MVP on the bench. Jonquel Jones is caught in the odd position of being the best player on a team that doesn’t really know what to do with her. Instead, the Sun’s offense runs through forward Alyssa Thomas, a human bowling ball in transition.

What the Sun have lacked in the half-court, they aim to make up for in sheer will. They outrebound and dive for loose balls and they can play fast. If it’s not quite as charming a brand as it was back in 2019, when the emerging Sun made a show of being #DisrespeCTed, it’s still a pretty good foundation for winning. Yesterday, the Sun got strong shooting performances from their guards, surprised everyone with a too-rare show of crisp ball movement, and indeed, made their layups. They scored 66 points in the paint, a playoff record, in a wire-to-wire win. The offensive barrage left Kahleah Copper lost for words:

Who isn’t lost for words? If you had to pick the series more likely to go five games when this round started, it certainly would’ve been the other one, and yet these two teams refuse to be ignored or overshadowed. You will pay attention to Sun-Sky, or at least acknowledge its existence! Each team poses its own challenge to the Aces: the Sky with their depth, the Sun with their stifling defense. But I’m not sure either one has the answer to the impending 15-for-15 Chelsea Gray shooting night.

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