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Commissioner’s Cup Preview Part I: Sky hope to maintain status as best team in WNBA

The Chicago Sky hope to follow the Seattle Storm’s path of following up a WNBA championship with a Commissioner’s Cup title.

Las Vegas Aces v Chicago Sky
Kahleah Copper
Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Last year, Candace Parker’s mantra was “I like our chances.” During regular-season struggles when she didn't want to get too down and during playoff successes when she didn’t want to get ahead of herself — that was always the message.

Most liked the Sky’s chances when they acquired Parker and one person in particular was Courtney Vandersloot, who felt that the team had been one specific player away from winning a championship and that that player was undoubtedly Candace Parker.

The story of the 2022 Sky is ‘watch out because they won it all last year after going 16-16 and now they're in first place at 21-7.’ With Emma Meesseman, Rebekah Gardner and Julie Allemand replacing Diamond DeShields, Stefanie Dolson and Astou Ndour-Fall as key contributors, they Sky’s talent level hasn’t taken a dip and they are locked in in a way they weren’t last regular season, knowing that, in any playoff format, it’s going to be easier to win the championship as a higher seed.

All in all, Sky fans should like their team’s chances, yet again. Whether that be when it comes to repeating when the WNBA Finals roll around or winning the second-ever Commissioner’s Cup championship Tuesday night in Chicago.

In the Commissioner’s Cup championship game, the Sky will face MVP candidate A’ja Wilson and the formidable starting lineup of the Las Vegas Aces (20-8). Vegas raced out to the best start in the league before Chicago overtook it. The Aces remain a feared juggernaut despite a 2-5 stretch that occurred from June 21 to July 6. Vegas also suffered a disappointing 16-point loss to the 12-16 Atlanta Dream on July 19 and its two wins since have come against the 5-25 Indiana Fever and the 12-15 Los Angeles Sparks.

While the Aces aren’t exactly rolling into the Commissioner’s Cup championship game, the Sky, despite a loss in their most recent game, are 11-2 over their last 13, with both losses coming by just three points. That stretch includes wins over the Aces and the 19-9 Connecticut Sun.

The win over the Aces was the largest comeback in WNBA history and it was in Vegas no less. Vandersloot led the way with 25 points and eight assists and Chicago finished with a field goal percentage of 57.3. The Sky have to be careful not to fall behind by a ton again.

The Sky lost their other game against the Aces so far this year, 83-76 on May 28 in Chicago. The Aces gained a big advantage in that game too, leading by as much as 18. Wilson (22 points) and Dearica Hamby (14 points) had 16 and 14 rebounds, respectively, and Kelsey Plum (19 points), Chelsea Gray (18 points) and Jackie Young (10 points, seven rebounds) all had six assists. The Aces had zero bench points. The Sky hope to avoid letting Vegas’ starters have another one of their dominant performances.

One of the storylines coming into the Commissioner’s Cup championship game is the Aces offense vs. the Sky’s defense. But while the Sky score less points, they shoot a better field goal percentage. Chicago is first in the league at 47.6 percent; Vegas is fourth at 45.4. The Aces make up for that by turning the ball over less than any other team in the league.

Another big storyline is the return of Vandersloot to the lineup:

With Vandersloot playing, the Sky have a much better shot at winning. Though she is in danger of not leading the league in assists per game for the first time since 2016, she is always a threat to go off for double-digit assists and is a game-altering floor general.

Kahleah Copper, the Sky's leading scorer, will also be huge in this game and the Sky hope she will step up. In last year’s Commissioner’s Cup championship game the winning team’s best player was the MVP. Likewise, Copper being the best player on the floor would likely be a good thing for the Sky and maybe she can follow up her 2021 Finals MVP with another MVP award in a championship setting.

Parker has stuffed the stat sheet so well this year and received a midseason MVP vote from our Cat Ariail. There’s always a chance she is the best player on the floor, especially with her having the experience of winning two WNBA championships. Meesseman joins Parker in a formidable starting frontcourt. She also stuffs the stat sheet and has been in the Defensive Player of the Year conversation. Allie Quigley rounds out the starting lineup and the four-time 3-point contest champ will of course threaten from beyond the arc. All five Chicago starters as well as Azurá Stevens average double-figure scoring.