Oh, the neutral fan’s dilemma: I am torn between hoping the more-fun-to-watch Chicago Sky put away the Connecticut Sun as fast as possible and wanting this fascinating series to last as many games as it can. Three games into the semifinals, the six-seed Sky have given the one-seed Sun a tougher fight than anyone expected when the postseason began. And after Sunday afternoon’s scrappy game, which Chicago won 86-83, the Sky lead the series 2-1, now just a win away from the WNBA Finals. (This might be the funniest possible playoff outcome were it not for the No. 2 Aces getting clobbered two games in a row by the No. 5 Mercury in the other series.)
But the neutral fan’s wish either way is for entertainment, and that basic wish was granted. Standout performances from speedy Sky forward Kahleah Copper and the Sun’s DeWanna Bonner, who’d had a rough beginning to the playoffs, were somewhat lost in the fog of an amusing, shambolic ending. With less than a minute left in the game, Courtney Vandersloot made a midrange pull-up to put the Sky up by three, but a foul was called on her teammate (and wife) Allie Quigley soon after, sending Connecticut’s Briann January to the line, where she cut the Sky lead to one. On the next possession, Vandersloot inbounded to Quigley, but Jasmine Thomas stole the ball from behind about half a second afterward. Thomas passed over to a sprinting January for the breakaway. For whatever reason, January attempted a reverse layup and missed! Analyst LaChina Robinson supplied a nice euphemism to describe the play: “She just didn’t have any basket awareness.”
I like the theory that the miss was some karmic compensation for another time Chicago led narrowly in the final seconds of a playoff game and had the ball stolen away. In the postgame press conference, Bonner stuck up for January. “We believe in her in that locker room. That’s not why we lost,” she said. She’s right that other bigger mistakes should haunt Connecticut if they lose this series: early struggles on defense, some nothing-to-write-home-about games from MVP Jonquel Jones, and a rebounding advantage much smaller than the one they enjoyed for most of the regular season among them. This may actually have been the best full game Connecticut has played all series. (Is that encouraging or devastating?) Bonner, in her impassioned defense, insisted that January is plenty capable and would make the same shot in Connecticut’s next game. This was meant as reassurance—it’s a nice thing for a teammate to say in what must be a low moment—but it’s probably a bittersweet kind of reassurance, to know you could achieve something in any scenario other than the one that already happened and mattered.