The Chicago Sky used 21 points and 10 rebounds from Kahleah Copper and a 26-4 second-quarter run to win by a comfortable 91-77 margin over the Phoenix Mercury in Game 1 of the WNBA Finals Sunday afternoon at Footprint Center in Phoenix.
Copper also had three assists and two steals and Candace Parker added 16 points, eight boards, three helpers, two steals and two blocks in what was an all-around solid effort for Chicago. For Copper, it was the first Finals game of her career.
“I think everybody had Finals game, first game jitters, except for Candace, which is very important when she plays a major key,” Copper said. “She was that calmness for us. She was telling us, even James (Wade), just telling everybody like just calm down, we’re fine. We’re in a good place, like we’re going to be fine.”
Wade said of Copper: “She’s a high-level player. Now I think, as the Finals goes on, people are going to start paying attention to her. I think people will notice what we know.”
The Sky won points in the paint 48-32, forced 21 turnovers, shot 52.9 percent from the field and shot 11-of-11 from the free throw line.
Phoenix quickly matched its largest lead from the first quarter by going up 29-20 one minute and one second into the second. But the Sky answered with a 9-2 run. Allie Quigley (18 points) made her first three of the game on her fourth attempt to cut it to 31-27 and then, when Quigley missed her fifth trey attempt, Copper grabbed an impressive offensive rebound and put up a layup that cut it to 31-29. The run was extended to 26-4 and saw the Sky take a 38-33 lead after a 3-point play by Parker, a 40-33 lead after a steal and fast break layup from Quigley and a 46-33 in the end.
The Mercury cut their deficit to seven early in the third, but the Sky would lead by as much as 17 in the frame and by 13 entering the fourth. There was no secret formula for Chicago, just more Copper, who has been the team's go-to scorer all season and led it with nine points in the period. Copper would later give the Sky a 20-point lead on a 3-pointer at 6:27 remaining in the fourth. Parker followed with a trey that gave Chicago its biggest lead of the game at 23.
Courtney Vandersloot aided the Chicago cause with 12 points and 11 assists while Azurá Stevens notched 10 points and eight rebounds and Stefanie Dolson (2-of-3 from distance) had 14 points.
Brittney Griner led the Mercury with 20 points to go along with six boards and three helpers. Skylar Diggins-Smith added 15 points, four assists and three steals in defeat, Brianna Turner had seven points, nine rebounds and three assists and newly-named WNBA GOAT by the fan vote Diana Taurasi had 17 points.
A Shey Peddy backcourt steal and basket right after a Diggins-Smith layup provided a quick four points for Phoenix that gave it a 12-7 lead in the first quarter. It went on to lead 17-11 on a Hartley three, 20-13 on a Diggins-Smith 3-point play and 25-16 on a Diggins-Smith three. But Chicago was able to close the opening frame with layups from Vandersloot and Dolson and trailed by just five entering the second, which put them within striking distance.
The Sky had to be wary of letting Phoenix get off to an explosive start like it got off to in Games 2 and 3 in the semifinals against the Las Vegas Aces. Taurasi made a three to open the game and Griner followed with a basket to make it 5-0 Mercury, but the Sky didn’t let things get out of control and trailed by just one after a Copper three cut it to 8-7 two minutes and 54 seconds in.
“I think every game you win is important,” Wade said of being up 1-0. “If you get the first win, it automatically gives you home court advantage. Right now, you never know how the games go, but who would have thought, you talk about this 2 1/2 weeks ago, that we’d have home court advantage in the Finals.”