Candice Parker is thriving, making history as Chicago Sky pushes back to the WNBA Finals

Chicago — Candice Parker She can’t help but peek at the tennis match on TV on the way back to the court at the Wintrust Arena. The first half of Game 2 of the 2022 WNBA Championship Semifinals was between Chicago Sky and the Connecticut SunParker Sky rose by 15 points, and luckily, Serena Williams won the first set of her second-round match at the US Open against the world’s No. 2 player. Parker won’t know until after her game — an 85-77 win as a two-time WNBA MVP and a 22-point champion — that Williams eventually pulled off a surprise three-set win, wowing sports fans as she kept alive what was likely to be her last championship. to her.

Parker, 36, will be sure to tell you that she is a few years younger than the 40-year-old Williams, but the importance of two Mount Rushmore-level athletes playing at such high levels is not lost on her. And while Williams’ career seemingly ended in the third round of the Open Championship two days later, Parker is still standing, and even thriving, with a chance to cement her legacy and make history by guiding Skye to a second consecutive championship, which would make them the first WNBA team to repeat since Los Angeles Sparks In 2001-2002.

Even 2-1 in their best of five series, Chicago could snatch their place in the WNBA Finals by winning Game 4 on Tuesday (8 p.m. ET, ESPN2) in Uncasville, Connecticut.

In most of the semi-final matches, the No. 2 seed was pushed out of his comfort zone due to Sun’s “chaotic” physical playing style. But they did manage to score two straight victories, thanks in large part to Parker’s outstanding play against Connecticut and in the playoffs as a whole.

In her second season with Sky after her long stint in Los Angeles, Parker boasts an average of 16.7 points, 11.3 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 2.8 blocks and 1.3 steals per game throughout the playoffs, making her the only WNBA player to average 15 points, 10 Rebounds and 5 assists over six games in one period after one season, according to Elias Sports Bureau.

She dominated 19 points and 18 rebounds in a historic performance in Chicago’s loss in Game 1, becoming the first player in WNBA history to score 15 points, 15 rebounds, 5 assists, and 5 blocks in a playoff while also falling stealing some sort of achievement. The coveted 5×5 game. In Game 2, Parker 22 points on an effective 8-for-13 shot (3 for 4 of 3) also led the team as Sky’s attack reverted to his freestyle identity. And in Game 3, she scored 16 points and 11 rebounds for her 27th run in the double playoffs, and tied with Tamika Catchings for the most in WNBA playoff history.

Parker’s defense, historically not the hallmark of her game, was threatening Connecticut, which thrives on introducing the ball into paint. The Sun is shooting 14 for 51 (27%) when Parker rivals it with the first three games of the series, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

Parker brushed off the idea that this was the best she’s ever played, saying that her younger self was more dominant in the post-season. Although Parker may not be setting the same scoring numbers as she did earlier in her career, her bounce rate, assist and blocking all are currently among the best marks of her playing career after the season is over.

It’s the kind of production that seemed unlikely until just a few years ago, when Parker posted his worst career season of 2019 (11.2 PPG). That same summer her peers voted her “overrated” in an anonymous poll from The Athletic, and when then-Sparks coach Derek Fisher suspended her in a playoff against the Sun, coincidentally.

“Her fitness, strength, and the intangibles that she has added late in her career are impressive,” said Sun coach Kurt Miller, who was an assistant coach in Los Angeles in 2015 before taking the reins at Connecticut the following season. “Can’t talk about her in 15 she wasn’t, but she’s really fit and plays with a really high drive and physicality. She doesn’t play late anymore. It’s impressive to watch and I think she’s great thanks to her commitment to fitness, nutrition, strength and conditioning. She looks amazing. “

As she gets older, Parker says she’s had to change her approach to maintaining her body, especially as injuries crippled her in 2019 and 2021. She doesn’t stay on the court for hours before and after games or practices, treatment and recovery — via cold tubs, and stimulation Electrophoresis, acupuncture, even yoga and Pilates – is of paramount importance.

But Parker said the mental aspect of the game is what allows the likes of her and Williams to achieve such great success late in their careers.

“I think it just talks about the mentality you have in the game, the mental strength,” Parker said after the second game. “I know you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but we can improve ours a little bit, and I think the game is slowing down. Serena, send it, you don’t have to be animated to serve as it is, you don’t send it back. So I guess it only works on things that you really are. Good at and playing more of that mental game.”

Focus on your opponent’s inclinations. Discover strategically how to reach the same areas when your body can’t do the things it used to do.

“You can still get there, it’s going to be different,” Parker said. “I look at men like [the NBA’s Nikola] jovich And the slowest guys who get to where they are. How do they do it? It’s like, being a stand-up pro, sometimes that involves slowing down and seeing what defense gives you in-game.”

Then comes the necessity to stay mentally engaged, to have the discipline to step in and do the same hard work every day in your readiness. And perhaps most importantly in the post-season, understanding the moments in the games that may ultimately decide whether you win.

It should come as no shock, then, that Parker’s fingerprints were all over the crucial period in Sky’s Game 3 victory in Uncasville on Sunday. During a long stalemate in the fourth quarter with Sky up two, Parker came in with 2:38 remaining in the game with a massive block on Bonner’s office The layup, which rebounded and extended further Ali Quigley. The ensuing Chicago possession ended with a basket of Emma Mesman That turned the momentum in favor of heaven forever. Parker later effectively blocked the game with a pair of free throws to put Chicago in fourth with 15 seconds to play.

“She wants to do everything she can to get another championship so I think you see an urgency,” said Sky coach James Wade. “This urgency comes in the form of not taking the offers of play, being your best self at all times, taking care of your body on your rest days, and putting so much into your game and into your career.”

Meesseman added, “She had so many different great games and even if she played them [worse] Stats, she’s still doing a lot of great things on the field, like being a great captain.”

Parker prides herself on her growth as a leader—in being less reactive and more patient, which she notes she’s also picked up in the parenting field—something she feels has been particularly on display since arriving in Chicago last summer. Lately, I’ve been focused on getting Sky to have the right mindset to go into gaming and be the one to set the tone. I thought that they did not get into the first game of the series, after noticing that they were lenient in shooting and filming.

“I want our mentality to improve after the win,” Parker said. “I think that’s where I challenge our team.” “After winning is the time when we need to be more focused and ready to play.”

This may be for Parker and Skye. When asked by NBA TV’s Kristen Laidlaw earlier this year if she was operating under the assumption that 2022 would be her last season, Parker replied, “That’s how I’m entering the season. I mean, I don’t know, I don’t know what the future holds. I know. My contract will expire after this year. There will be decisions to be made.” Even apart from Parker’s retirement question, there are three Sky starters – Courtney VanderslotAnd Quigley and Meesseman – plus a sixth woman Azura Stevens They are all free agents after this season, too.

Parker has always said that family considerations will go into her decision on when to retire. His wife, Anya Petrakova, and daughter, Lily Williams, have encouraged her to come back for 2022. But Parker has also been consistent in saying that she wants to preserve her body so she can play with her kids after she’s away from the game. On Wednesday after the Williams game, Parker starred at the sight of Williams’ young daughter, Olympia, watching her mother from the stands.

Regardless of whether it comes to 2022, Parker’s mastery and urgency have produced some of the most influential basketball games in years – and in the process have propelled Sky just one win from a return to the Finals, and three more from a win. Home Address.

“I just want to win a championship because I love to win and because this team loves to win,” Parker said. “I don’t think I have anything else left to prove to myself and the match. I’m not playing for that.”

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