The Connecticut Sun are into the WNBA Finals with a comeback 72-63 win against the reigning champion Chicago Sky in a deciding Game 5 at Wintrust Arena. The Sun had already started to erase an 11-point deficit when a heated exchange under the basket between the Sky’s Kahleah Copper and Sun’s DeWanna Bonner fueled a full erasure and eventual win.
It is the No. 3-seeded Sun’s fourth Finals berth and they’ll face the No. 1 Las Vegas Aces. Game 1 of the WNBA Finals begins Sunday in Las Vegas (3 p.m. ET, ABC). Both franchises are going for their first titles.
The Chicago loss ends the Sky’s quest for a repeat championship, which would have been the first since the 2001-02 Los Angeles Sparks. Chicago, the No. 2 seed this year, shocked the top-seeded Sun in the 2021 semifinals as the No. 6 seed.
Connecticut kept Chicago scoreless for the final 4:41 of the game and finished on an 18-0 run, the longest scoring run to close out a playoff game, according to ESPN Stats and Information. They had 25 assists on 27 baskets, a franchise record and second-highest mark in playoff history, per Positive Residual.
It’s the first time in WNBA history a team has had five players log at least 12 points, three rebounds, two assists and one block. All five Sun starters hit those marks, led by 12-point, 10-rebound and eight-assist outing by “The Engine” Alyssa Thomas. Jonquel Jones, the 2021 MVP, had 15 points, 10 rebounds, two steals and two blocks.
Controversial no-call shifts game momentum
The interaction happened with under four minutes to play in a nine-point game, 63-54. Copper fouled Bonner on the layup and as Bonner yelled “and-1” with the ball draining through, Copper shoved her in the chest with her right arm. They started jawing and Bonner pushed Copper’s arm away.
Bonner eventually stepped away, Jones jawed back at Copper and Sky teammates came in. Meanwhile, Sky head coach James Wade ran onto the court and under the basket to call for a timeout.
“We stayed locked in,” Jonquel Jones said on the ESPN broadcast of the exchange. “We’re not about to be bullied. It is what it is.”
The referees reviewed and said there was nothing after the play. No technicals were assessed, objectively a shocking decision given all the technicals called throughout the season. If a technical were given to Copper, who drew one earlier in the game, she would have been ejected from the semifinal game and suspended from Game 1 of the WNBA Finals, if the Sky had advanced.
Phoenix Mercury players were particularly vocal on Twitter about the lack of a tech, especially Diamond DeShields.
Bonner completed the three-point play. On the other end, Courtney Williams blocked a 3-point attempt by Allie Quigley and Thomas assisted on Williams’ bucket. Thomas hit two free throws and assisted on a Natisha Hiedeman bucket that tied the game at 2:24. Jones scored three, Williams hit a dagger pull-up jumper on another Thomas assist and Bonner added four free throws in the final 20 seconds.
Sky lose its crown, face uncertain future
Much like the Seattle Storm before it, the Chicago Sky head into a highly uncertain offseason.
Copper, the 2021 Finals MVP, is the only starter on a contract in 2023. Candace Parker, Courtney Vandersloot, Emma Meesseman, Quigley and Azura Stevens, their Sixth Player candidate, are all unrestricted free agents. There’s a chance Parker and Quigley enter retirement.
There’s also prioritization, which requires players to return from their overseas commitments and re-join their teams by the first day of the season. Many players have voiced concern over the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) stipulation that goes into place before next season. Some could opt to only play overseas, a consideration for Vandersloot and Meesseman.
The Sky lost despite turning the Sun over 23 times, tying a record for turnovers in a WNBA postseason victory. They assisted on 18 of their 24 made field goals, but were only 24.3% from the field and 32% (8-of-25) from 3-point range. They were again crushed on the boards, 43-28, and in paint points, 36-26, despite big rebounds early from Meesseman.
Copper scored a team-high 22 points after coming alive in the second quarter and shifting energy in the Sky’s favor. Vandersloot and Meesseman were the only other Sky players in double digits. It looked as if Chicago had a Finals berth locked until the final four minutes.
WNBA Finals schedule
Game 1: Sunday, at Las Vegas, 3 p.m. ET (ABC)
Game 2: Tuesday, at Las Vegas, 9 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Game 3: Thursday, Sept. 15, at Connecticut, 9 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Game 4*: Sunday, Sept. 18, at Connecticut, 4 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Game 5*: Tuesday, Sept. 20, at Las Vegas, 9 p.m. ET (ESPN)