Sky has prepared for another battle in Game 4, whether it’s “chaotic” or malicious

UNCASVILLE, Conn. What is the line between chaos and maliciousness? WNBA officials don’t seem to know, and it culminates in Game 3 of the semifinals between Sky and Sun.

All the strings, the buzzword for The Sun’s coach/general manager Kurt Miller was a mess.

He has repeated in every available media outlet that the only way his team will go to beat the defending champion is to make the game ugly. On Sunday afternoon, it got as ugly as possible without a season-ending injury.

In the first five minutes, Candice Parker took an elbow in her left eye from attacking Sun Alyssa Thomas. Parker remained bent under the basket for 30 seconds as the play continued. Standing up, closing her left eye as she walked toward her seat, she had a question.

“Ve! That’s what we’re going to do? Really?!” Parker shouted in court before returning to the tunnel to be logged out.

Before the inning, Thomas, who finished second for best defensive player of the year with 14 votes, was over the mess. 59 seconds before play in the second quarter, Parker grabbed the rebound from Thomas’ missed shot. As she turned to push the ball up into the transition zone, Parker met Thomas’ right knee as he sweeps her legs from under her.

When Parker crashed to the ground, Thomas turned around and walked into the court with seeming indifference. Officials blew their whistles indicating that it was a Sky Ball out of bounds, but no error—blatant or otherwise—was evaluated.

“It was a really bad play,” said coach James Wade. “And it could have ended really badly.”

Wade was unhappy with Miller’s “chaotic” messaging and the inability of officials to protect his players. After listening to Miller’s news conferences after the first game, Wade reached out to the league to confirm that they would be more vigilant for illegal plays. He sent plays to the league for review after Game 3, including Thomas’ knee pass to Parker.

Parker had no thoughts on whether it was an illegal play but expressed gratitude that she was able to get away unscathed. If anything, both moments sparked Parker’s dominance. She went with 16 points, 11 rebounds, four assists, three blocks and two steals.

Fitness in the playoffs is the expectation, but Parker may be the most prepared for that level. It endured fights against one of the most formidable frontcocks in WNBA history of Sylvia Fowles, Rebecca Bronson, and Maya Moore when Sparks and Lynx met in the postseason every year from 2015 to 2018. Those playoffs included the WNBA Finals, in 2016 when the Sparks won with the title and again in 2017 when Lynx prevented them from running back.

“I will go to my grave to say this, any time you have to guard Maya Moore, Sylvia Fowles, Simon Augustus, Lindsay Wallen, Rebecca Bronson, you can do anything,” Parker said.

Game 3 was a turning point in this physical series in the semi-finals. Both because of the score, which gave Sky a 2-1 advantage ahead of Match 4 on Tuesday, and how Sky secured victory.

Despite the Sun doing its best to make things “chaotic,” the sky remained steady. It was a clear difference from their performance in Game 1 where they were unable to establish any kind of rhythm after the sun imposed their will in the first minutes. In Game 3, the sky responded to the physicality of the Sun with mental steadfastness and simply overpowered it in an ugly game.

Sky and Sun fired 37.1% and 36.8% from the field, respectively, nearly matching their playing ratios. The difference was that Wade’s team played during their annoying moments in the first game and matched their heat stroke.

At some point during Game Three, Emma Messiman sat on the bench and said to her teammates, “This is war.”

Miller’s chaotic approach backfired, and his team seemed frustrated at critical moments, missing so many falls that could be heard on broadcasts during timeout saying, “I’m going to be fired because we can’t throw the ball.”

Jonquil Jones was suspended on six points in the 3-for-10 shooting and Thomas was held by the same total, shooting 3-for-12. Messman and Parker bore the brunt of and largely contained Sun’s forward zone.

All four of the Sun’s top scorers held below their regular season average in the semifinals, while Parker raised her rank. She averaged 19 points, 11 rebounds, 4.3 assists, four blocks and 2.3 shots.

But, as Parker said, given who she’s encountered in the past, she could do anything.

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