2021 WNBA Finals: Sky use historic defensive effort to crush Mercury in Game 3, move one win away from title

CHICAGO — On the first play of Game 3, the Phoenix Mercury ran an off-ball screen action with Brittney Griner and Diana Taurasi to try and free one of their dynamic duo up for a shot. For a split second it appeared as if it was going to work, but Allie Quigley darted over in help defense to smother Taurasi and force a difficult pass that Kahleah Copper was able to intercept. 

“Our defensive activity was really good,” Chicago Sky coach James Wade said. “I thought that we were very active and we were connected. You saw a lot of covering for each other, a lot of communication. I think it created easy opportunities for us. We were able to turn them over and score out of those turnovers, and I was pretty proud of that.”

That opening possession set a tone for how the rest of the game would go, as the Sky used a dominant defensive performance to secure an 86-50 win — the largest margin of victory in WNBA Finals history — and take a 2-1 lead in this best-of-five matchup. 

“Defense is something you’ve got to want to do,” Diamond DeShields said. Her and the Sky were more than willing. Even for the Finals, there was an extra level of effort and intensity from them on that side of the ball as they fed off the energy of the sellout crowd inside Wintrust Arena. They were locked into their one-on-one matchups, flying around in rotations and generally making life miserable for the Mercury.

“I think we came in with a defensive effort tonight,” Candace Parker said. “Just trying to make things difficult, make sure that we’re contesting shots, and I think our team did a good job of rotating and helping each other.”

The Sky had the Mercury so out of sorts that they forced them into more turnovers (19) than baskets (16). Even with the entire fourth quarter playing out as garbage time, the Mercury only managed 50 points on 16 of 62 from the field. That was their lowest point total since back in 2012, and their 25.8 field goal percentage was the worst ever for a Finals game. Simply put, this was a historic defensive outing for the Sky. 

Sky coaches and players came back time and again to their effort and willpower on the defensive end in Game 3, but those aren’t the only aspects of a successful defense. You still need to know your opponent and come in with a game plan that you can execute to either eliminate or limit their strengths. Chicago did that in Game 3. 

“I think that the thing that helped was our preparation,” DeShields said. “We had really good prep the past day or so and coming into tonight, so I think we were all just locked in.”

They were extremely aggressive in their hedging off of ball screens — so much so that Phoenix coach Sandy Brondello complained about the physicality postgame — which disrupted the Mercury’s rhythm and timing. Down low, they played more one-on-one defense against Griner, forcing her to beat them with contested shots and limiting the Mercury’s 3-point opportunities. 

“Today, honestly, nothing worked,” Taurasi said. “Inside, outside. They really just took us out of everything we wanted to run. I think that was probably the key to the game.”

For large stretches of this series, the Mercury have been left searching for answers to the Sky’s length, athleticism and activity on the defensive end, and in Game 3 those qualities finally earned the headlines. Now, the Sky are just one win away from capturing the first championship in franchise history. 

To do so, they’ll have to come out in Game 4 with the exact same mindset on that side of the ball. 

“I know they’re going to — they’re a prideful team,” Wade said. They have three trophies, and I know they’re going to come out and punch. But we’re going to punch, too.”

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