W.N.B.A. Semifinals Check-In: Can’t. Stop. Candace. Parker.

As Chicago Sky guard Kahleah Copper and Connecticut Sun guard Courtney Williams tussled over the basketball in Game 1 of their W.N.B.A. semifinal series, Sky forward Candace Parker walked down the court, waving her hands in the air to ignite the Chicago crowd. The moment reflected how physical the series had been, and it was reminder of the teams’ history.

In 2021, the sixth-seeded Sky beat the top-seeded Sun in the semifinals en route to winning the championship, a title that has that has eluded the Sun. If the Sky win the title this season, they will be the first team to repeat since the Los Angeles Sparks in 2001-2. After the Sky’s 85-77 victory in Game 2, the best-of-five series is tied at one game apiece.

Sky forward Azurá Stevens said the series is “just about who wants it more, because they have beef with us from last year.”

On the other side of the bracket, the Las Vegas Aces and Seattle Storm are also tied at 1-1. The series features some of the most recognizable names in the league and seven former No. 1 overall draft picks: Sue Bird (2002), Tina Charles (2010), Jewell Loyd (2015) and Breanna Stewart (2016) for Seattle; and Kelsey Plum (2017), A’ja Wilson (2018) and Jackie Young (2019) for Las Vegas.

This is a rematch of the 2020 W.N.B.A. finals, in which the Storm swept the Aces and Stewart was named the most valuable player of the series. Stewart also won the award after leading the Storm to the title in 2018. If Seattle wins its fifth championship this year, it will break a tie with the Minnesota Lynx and Houston Comets for the most in W.N.B.A history. The Aces are still looking for their first title.

Game 3 in each series is Sunday. Here is a look at how the teams have fared so far.

No. 1 Las Vegas Aces vs. No. 4 Seattle Storm

Chelsea Gray has been the Las Vegas Aces’ leading scorer against the Seattle Storm.Credit…Ethan Miller/Getty Images

The Aces were the best offensive team in the W.N.B.A. this year. They led the league in points per game (90.4) and offensive efficiency (109.6). Four starters averaged at least 10 points per game: Plum (20.2), Wilson (19.5), Young (15.9) and Chelsea Gray (13.7).

Through the first two games of the series against the Storm, Gray has arguably been the Aces’ most important player, managing the offense and scoring, and making pinpoint passes at crucial moments. She’s leading the team in points (21) and assists (6) per game during the playoffs.

But Las Vegas has struggled in the first quarter.

In Game 2, the Aces matched the Storm almost point-for-point in the first seven minutes and got out to a 16-13 lead. Then a 3 by Seattle’s Stephanie Talbot tied the game and sparked a 10-0 run that pushed the Storm toward a seven-point advantage going into the second quarter. The first quarter of Game 1 was similar, as the Aces gave up 26 points and trailed by 11 at the end of the period.

Stewart and Loyd combined for 50 points on 52.8 percent shooting in Seattle’s Game 1 win. Stewart dominated most of the game, and Loyd scored 10 of the Storm’s final 12 points and assisted on the other basket. Her most impressive basketball of that tear came with just over 30 seconds remaining in the game, with the Storm holding a 1-point lead and Wilson — the defensive player of the year — guarding her at the 3-point line. Loyd crossed from her right to left hand before stepping back and knocking down a long 2-pointer over Wilson’s outstretched arms.

But Loyd struggled in the Game 2 loss.

Loyd finished 2 of 10 from the field and 0 for 3 from the 3-point line for just 8 points. While Stewart tallied 32 points, 7 rebounds and 3 assists, the only other Storm player in double figures was Charles, who scored 17 points on 17 shot attempts. The good sign for the Storm is that even with Loyd’s struggles, they were in the game until the end.

No. 2 Chicago Sky vs. No. 3 Connecticut Sun

Jonquel Jones has helped the Connecticut Sun outrebound the Sky.Credit…Michael Reaves/Getty Images

The Sky have struggled in Game 1s this postseason, losing both at home. The Sun benefited from that in their semifinal series, but they have felt the pain of playing against Parker.

The Sun had the second-best defensive rating in the league in the regular season (96.3), and they held the Sky to their lowest point total of the season in their 68-63 Game 1 victory. But Parker still had an astounding stat line: 19 points, 18 rebounds, 6 blocks, 5 assists and 4 steals. All of that and she had just 2 turnovers.

Parker is doing almost everything for the Sky on the floor. She had another impressive stat line in Game 2 with 22 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 blocks in the win. She also hit 3 of 4 3-pointers.

The most challenging part about playing the Sky is that on any given night, a different player, or multiple players, could go for 20 points. The stat line doesn’t show Parker’s effectiveness in keeping the Sky’s offensive churning: After rebounds, she often looks ahead to Copper, who is often already behind the defense for a score.

The Sky’s roster is among the best in the W.N.B.A., and they breezed to a franchise-best 26 wins because of it. Still, the Sun’s physical frontcourt, with Jonquel Jones (6-foot-6), DeWanna Bonner (6-foot-4), Brionna Jones (6-foot-3) and Alyssa Thomas (6-foot-2), has outrebounded the Sky in the series, 86-65. The rebounding advantage didn’t hinder the Sky from picking up a win in Game 2 and nearly securing Game 1, when Parker had 18 rebounds. But they will need a group effort to neutralize the Sun’s size.

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