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2021 WNBA Playoff Preview: Series shifts to Windy City with No. 1 seed Connecticut Sun, No. 6 seed Chicago Sky tied at 1-1

The semifinal series between the No. 1 seed Connecticut Sun and No. 6 seed Chicago Sky is tied at 1-1. When they take the court on Sunday afternoon at 1 p.m. ET (ESPN), will Jonquel Jones or Candace Parker shine as a superstar and lead her squad to the win? Or, will it be a role player who makes the difference?

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WNBA: SEP 30 Semifinals - Chicago Sky at Connecticut Sun
Candace Parker contests Jonquel Jones during Game 2 of the semifinals. In Game 3, which superstar will step up for her squad?
Photo by M. Anthony Nesmith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

With the series knotted at 1-1, the semifinals between the No. 1 seed Connecticut Sun (1-1) and No. 6 seed Chicago Sky (3-1) moves to the the Windy City, with the teams taking the court on Sunday at 1 p.m. ET (ESPN).

In the Sky’s Game 1 win, Courtney Vandersloot was the standout, tallying only the second triple-double in WNBA playoff history with 12 points, 10 rebounds and 18 assists. In Game 2, Alyssa Thomas was the hero, as “the Engine” appeared unencumbered by her recent return from an Achilles injury and powered the Sun to the victory.

Who will step up in Game 3 and take center stage? Will it be Candace Parker? Jonquel Jones? Or, someone else?

The case for Candace Parker

After averaging under 27 minutes per game during the regular season, Parker’s minute load has increased in the playoffs to more than 33 minutes per game. In Game 1 of the semifinals, she played almost 40 minutes.

For Chicago to triumph, it needs a lot from Parker. Can the 35-year-old give it?

In particular, can she turn back the clock for another big-time scoring outburst? In Game 1, she showed off her scoring chops, netting 22 points. In Game 2, she dropped down to 12 total points.

That Connecticut began to look like the league’s best defense, shutting down a Chicago offense that had hummed during Game 1 and at the start of Game 2, suggests the Sky may need Parker to assume a more active, aggressive offensive mindset, especially if they are forced to create in the half court.

Can Parker repeatedly tap into her veteran savvy to operate as a versatile offense threat — as pick-and-roll partner with Vandersloot, posting up on the block, or working in isolation on the perimeter — to test, and hopefully create cracks in, the Sun defense?

The case for Jonquel Jones

The newly-crowned MVP has not turned in an MVP-caliber playoffs.

In Game 1, J. Jones scored a game-high 26 points, while also grabbing 11 rebounds, swatting a pair of shots and snagging a steal. Sounds like an MVP.

But, down the stretch of Game 1, she did not leave an imprint on the offensive end, scoring only four total points across the fourth quarter and two overtime periods. Then, in Game 2, she was off her game, playing less than 25 minutes and scoring only four points.

Can she rediscover her groove and turn in a performance requisite of her “Bahamian Beast” nickname?

After the Sun dropped Game 1 of the 2019 WNBA Finals, when J. Jones scored only 12 points, she unleashed an epic effort in Game 2, with a double-double of 32 points and 18 rebounds. She proved that she can respond to an adverse performance with something awesome. Yet, Jones then had a subpar Game 3, scoring only nine points.

This season, Jones emerged as the near-consensus league MVP because of her consistent excellence. As her previous playoff performances indicate, such consistency had been something she had lacked in season’s prior. Even though they won Game 2 without the best version of her, the No. 1 seed Sun need J. Jones to find a way to be consistently great if they are to fulfill their title ambitions.

What about Natisha Hiedeman? Or, Azurá Stevens?

Of course, it might not be the certified stars who make the key contributions.

Both the Sun and Sky have a young role player whose performance through the first two games suggests that she could become a more prominent x-factor in Game 3. Although plus-minus can be a misleading stat, especially when the sample size is only two games, it is worth looking at the two most positive players for each team — Natisha Hiedeman and Azurá Stevens.

A plus-7 in Game 1 and plus-13 in Game 2, Hiedeman has served as a steady off-the-bench presence for the Sun. On offense, she is a threatening 3-point shooter who has the potential to swing a quarter by draining multiple deep balls. She also has been a reliable playmaker, tallying six assists to one turnover in two games. While undersized on defense, she is pesky, totaling two blocks and a steal in the playoffs.

Stevens was a plus-8 in Game 1 and plus-10 in Game 2, using her length to good effect even as she is going up against the significantly stronger Connecticut front court. In Game 1, Stevens had a box score-filling effort, with eight points, seven rebounds, a pair of assists, a block and a steal. In Game 2, she scored an efficient 10 points while also using her length to bother the Joneses.

Hiedeman or Stevens can help her squad win on the margins. In a Game 3 that could come down to the wire, these margins could make all the difference.

Game information

No. 6 seed Chicago Sky (3-1) vs. No. 1 seed Connecticut Sun (1-1)

When: Sunday, Oct. 3 at 1 p.m. ET

Where: Wintrust Arena in Chicago, IL

How to watch: ESPN or TSN2

Key to the matchup: As both head coaches made clear after Game 2, the travel conditions from Uncasville, CT to Chicago, IL were far (far, far) from ideal, with both organizations forced to navigate multiple flights, multiple traveling parties and unfriendly hours in order arrive in the Windy City. Unfortunately, this off-court challenge could influence what unfolds on the court in Game 3. It would be preferable, of course, if things contained to the hardwood were determinative. Instead, which team better survived miserable travel conditions could have the edge in Game 3. Additionally, it would be dispiriting if a Sunday afternoon playoff showcase between two star-studded squads was sluggish and sloppy due to travel. Surely, there is a better solution.

Sky injury report: none

Sun injury report: none