Candace Parker’s WNBA homecoming ends with a storybook ending
Few basketball players can match Candace Parker’s resume. She is a two-time WNBA Most Valuable Player; a Finals MVP who led the Los Angeles Sparks to a league title in 2016; a two-time Olympic gold medalist; and two-time NCAA champion in Tennessee.
But there was one more thing Parker, 35, wanted to do while she was an active gamer: play more games in front of her friends and family.
So earlier this year, the Naperville, Illinois native, who was the 2008 WNBA No. 1 draft pick and played his first 12 seasons in the league with the Sparks, signed as a free agent with the hometown team: the Chicago Sky. Now she is two wins away from winning another WNBA title.
On Sunday, Parker had 16 points and eight rebounds in the Sky’s 99-77 win over the Phoenix Mercury in Game 1 of the Finals. The Sky trailed early in the game, but Parker set up his teammates and sparked a 17-0 run in the second quarter.
“I think everyone was nervous in the first game besides Candace,” Kahleah Copper said after the win. “She was this calm for us.”
Game 2 of the best-of-five series takes place on Wednesday.
The Sky had finished the 2020 season as one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference, but were eliminated in a first-round knockout playoff. Sky head coach James Wade felt last year’s squad lacked a top player who could open up shots for sharp shooting guards Courtney Vandersloot and Allie Quigley.
Adding the 6-foot-4 Parker was just what the Sky needed. It was also exactly what Parker needed.
“It means so much. Look into the stands and see some familiar faces. I grew up playing in front of these people. Parker said Last week.
It hasn’t been an easy season for Parker, however.
She injured her ankle in the season opener and Sky lost seven of the eight games she missed during that streak. After Parker returned to action, the team rebounded to finish the regular season with a 16-16 record. They qualified for the playoffs as the No. 6 seed, but had to survive playoff games against the Dallas Wings and Minnesota Lynx, before knocking out the No. 1 seed Connecticut Sun 3- 1 to qualify for the final.
“We were missing one piece, and that was Candace Parker,” Vandersloot said after the series-deciding win over the Sun. “She changed this franchise.”
In the Game 4 win over Connecticut in the semifinals, Parker flashed his all-around game, compiling 17 points, nine rebounds, seven assists, two steals and two blocks. During one streak, she grabbed a rebound and led the Sky in transition forward throw a blind pass to her teammate Azura Stevens for an easy lay-up.
“I sent Allie [Quigley] and slot [Vandersloot] a text message in January when I decided to go home, I said “We are here”. Like, we have it right there. We can make our dreams come true. And it’s been special,” Parker said.
Wade credits Parker for handling the pressure of coming home and being a player the team can lean on in the big moments.
“She accomplished everything. It’s funny to say, but she’s probably one of the most underrated basketball players of all time,” Wade said. “We finished the season 16-16. If Candace isn’t in this locker room, is [the players] have believed as they believe? She certainly carried us.
Write to Jim Chairusmi at email@example.com
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