8 months after signing Candace Parker, the Sky are 1 win away from the WNBA Finals

When Naperville native Candace Parker signed with the Chicago Sky in February, she talked a lot about the emotions of finally coming home to play basketball again.

After winning two high school state championships at Naperville Central, she left the suburbs to play college basketball at Tennessee. Then, she got drafted by the Los Angeles Sparks and became a star in the WNBA. After 13 seasons in Hollywood, it seemed like Parker might ride off into the sunset there as a lifer.

But the Sky pulled off the deal of the offseason and reeled Parker back into the Land of Lincoln. Parker was thrilled. She talked about her childhood in Chicago. She talked about family. She talked about getting to live in the city she grew up in with her tween daughter, Lailaa. She joked about being able to once again load up on her favorite cuisine: anything from Portillo's.

"Anyone who knows me knows that I am the biggest Portillo's fan ever," Parker said with a laugh.

Meanwhile, the Sky was busy thinking about its own craving: a championship.

"She's the type of talent and person where she has expectations. Every year, the team she's on, you automatically consider her team a championship contender," Sky head coach and general manager James Wade said of Parker in the wake of her signing. "So once we felt there could be an opening (for Parker), we went at it 100 percent. It was about making (Parker) feel comfortable and about putting our team in a position where we can win a championship."

It's eight months later, and the Sky is just about there.

Parker, a five-time all-star, a six-time first-team all-WNBA selection and a league champion, has been averaging 13.3 points and 8.4 rebounds per game this season and has helped the Sky get oh-so-close to only its second shot at a WNBA championship. With a win tonight over the Connecticut Sun at Wintrust Arena (7 p.m., ESPN), the Sky would punch its ticket to the 2021 WNBA Finals.

In 2014, the Sky got to its first (and still only) WNBA Finals. But the Phoenix Mercury swept the Sky, 3-0. Talent wasn't a problem for the Sky that year with names such as Elena Delle Donne, Sylvia Fowles and Courtney Vandersloot leading the way. Experience was an issue though and Phoenix had more of it in bigger games.

This current version of the Sky, a winner of five of its last six games, is not only talented with five players averaging double-figures, but it's also savvy. There's a veteran presence that comes from Parker as well as 11-year point guard Vandersloot, one of the WNBA's best playmakers of all time, and 13-year sharpshooter Allie Quigley, one of the league's all-time best 3-point shooters. Even emerging star Kahleah Copper, now in her sixth season, has been around the WNBA block a few times.

Copper has been the story of the last two seasons, raising her scoring average to about 15 points per game in 2020 and 2021 after averaging about 6 points per game over her previous four seasons.

The smooth and speedy and slashing Copper poured in 26 points on 9-of-14 shooting Sunday at Wintrust Arena in helping the Sky get an 86-83 win over Connecticut to take a 2-1 lead in the semifinals.

It was a boisterous Sky crowd that afternoon, the second-largest of the season, complete with a group of Chicago Bulls players sitting courtside.

"The crowd was popping. Every possession, every deflection, every and-one. I thought the energy was unmatched," Copper said. "They (the crowd) played a major part."

Parker is hoping for more of the same tonight from the Chicago faithful she knows so well. She's appealing to all of her friends and family members. Well, make that everyone's friends and family members.

"It really gives us energy," Parker said of the electricity from the crowd. "Bring a friend, bring a cousin, bring whoever to come out Wednesday and keep that energy up."

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