Candace Parker, Chicago : ‘I want to always bring honor to Pat’

Former Lady Vol legend Candace Parker, moments after leading Chicago to the WNBA Finals in her hometown with Bulls legend Scottie Pippen and Chance the Rapper courtside, invoked the memory of Pat Summitt and evoked the passion of Tennessee fans.

“I want to always bring honor to Pat,” Parker said in the on-court, post-game interview with ESPN broadcaster Holly Rowe before breaking down in tears Wednesday night. “In these moments, I always remember her.”

Parker finished with 17 points, nine rebounds, seven assists and two steals. She displayed her full range of skills from no-look passes to a step-back three to drives to the paint to nifty post moves.

“This is a special group,” Parker said after the Sky’s 79-69 victory over top seed Connecticut to win the series 3-1 and seize a spot in the finals. “This year was hard. We’re sitting here, and this is great, but it was hard this year. We have a bunch of people who get back up. You get knocked down, and you get back up. After playing against them for so many years, I wanted to be a part of it.”

The Sky entered postseason as the sixth seed after finishing the regular season at 16-16. After Chicago started the 2021 season with consecutive wins on the road, Parker missed nine games because of an ankle injury, and the Sky lost its next seven.

When Parker returned, the Sky got back on track and then turned up in postseason with two wins in one-game elimination rounds over Dallas and Minnesota. Chicago opened the semifinal series against Connecticut with a double overtime win on the road before dropping game two. Chicago swept the two games at home to close out the series and avoid a game five at Connecticut.

The Sky also has Diamond DeShields on the roster, and the former Lady Vol has been key for Chicago with her defense and ability to pass, get to the paint and run the floor.

Next up for Chicago is the WNBA Finals against either Phoenix or Las Vegas, which will meet Friday night in game five of their semifinal series. Game one of the best-of-five series will take place Sunday at 3 p.m. Eastern and will be a road game for the Sky. It is the franchise’s second appearance on the championship stage and the first since 2014.

The post-game interview with Rowe also was featured Thursday on ABC’s Good Morning America and included a shoutout from Robin Roberts, a longtime advocate of women’s sports and close friend of Summitt.

Parker and the Sky also got a shoutout from former President Barack Obama, a Chicago denizen who called her a “legend.”

“It’s always good to be from Chicago, but this year is especially sweet. Congratulations to the (Chicago Sky) for making it to the WNBA finals, and to the legend, (CandaceParker), for making all of us proud. We’ll be rooting for you,” Obama tweeted.

For the second time in team history, the Chicago Sky are heading to the WNBA Finals, as they beat the top-seeded Connecticut Sun 79-69 and punched their ticket to the championship series.

The Sky last made the finals in 2014, and are hoping for a first title in team history as they await the winner of the other semifinal series between Las Vegas and Phoenix.

The loss by the Sun marks the first time since the WNBA changed its playoff format in 2016 that the top-seeded team failed to reach the WNBA Finals.

Four of Chicago’s five starters reached double figures in the game, with Courtney Vandersloot leading the way with 19 points. Candace Parker had a stellar game, with 17 points, nine rebounds and seven assists, and Kahleah Copper chipped in with 18 points and six rebounds in the victory.

Chicago failed to score in the final five minutes of the third quarter, but their offense came back to life in the fourth quarter as they rapidly built their lead back to double-digits.

At the same time, their defense tightened up considerably, allowing just four points to the Sun through the first seven minutes of the quarter as they cruised to an emphatic victory.

Now, the Sky will await the winner of the other semifinal series, with the Phoenix Mercury holding a 2-1 series lead over the Las Vegas Aces.

Coincidentally, it was Phoenix that beat Chicago in the 2014 WNBA Finals, keeping them from winning a championship in their only trip to the final series of the season.

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