Candace Parker and the Chicago Sky are one win away from returning to the WNBA Finals after escaping Game 3 with a 76-72 win over the Connecticut Sun.
Parker played a crucial role in Chicago taking a 2-1 series lead after dropping 16 points, 11 rebounds, and four assists on Sunday for her fifth double-double outing this postseason. So far, the two-time MVP is averaging 16.7 points, 11.3 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 2.8 blocks, and 1.3 steals per game on 46.3 percent shooting from the field through the playoffs.
According to ESPN, the 2016 Finals MVP has also held Connecticut to 27 percent (14-51) shooting on shots she’s contested. Although the Tennessee alum balks at the idea she’s playing her best basketball, she believes her younger self was more dominant in the playoffs; Parker has put up career-high rebounding, assists, and blocking averages this playoff.
Parker’s uptick in production has come despite the Sun taking Chicago out of their comfort zone with their physical style of play, mucking up the defending champs’ offensive actions. Parker became the first player in W history to record a 15/15/5/5 statline in a single playoff game this postseason. Her double-double on Sunday was her 27th career playoff double-double, tied with Tamika Catchings for the most in WNBA playoff history.
Coach Curt Miller, a Spark assistant coach in 2015 before becoming head coach of the Sun, said it’s been “impressive” that Parker had improved her fitness, strength, and intangibles at 36-years-old. Miller also Parker “doesn’t take plays off anymore,” and that “it’s impressive to watch and I think it’s a big credit to her commitment to fitness, nutrition and strength and conditioning.”
“Her fitness and strength and the intangibles that she’s added late in her career is impressive,” Miller said per ESPN. “It’s not to talk about in ’15 she wasn’t, but she is really fit and plays with a really high motor and is physical. She doesn’t take plays off anymore. And it’s impressive to watch, and I think it’s a big credit to her commitment to fitness, nutrition, and strength and conditioning. She looks great.”
hard in the paint! pic.twitter.com/FkjCryRvcU— WSLAM (@wslam) September 4, 2022
To that point, Parker admits that she’s changed her approach to maintaining her body after injuries hampered her season in 2019 and 2021; she now prioritizes treatment and recovery (cold tubs, electrical stimulation, acupuncture, yoga, and pilates).
She’s also strengthened her mental approach to the hardwood, which she believes has helped her stay at an elite level. Parker is focusing on the scouting report, ensuring she knows her opponents’ tendencies while figuring out a strategy to get to her spots. Parker also ensures she’s ready late in games when she needs to take over or make clutch plays to cement a Chicago victory.
“You can still get there; it’s just going to be different,” Parker said. “I look at guys like [the NBA’s Nikola] Jovic and guys that are slower that get to their spots. How do they do that? It’s like, really being a master of your matchup, and sometimes it involves slowing down and figuring out what the defense is giving you within a game.”
Chicago has a chance to end their best-of-five semifinal series with a series clinching Game 4 win over Connecticut on Tuesday.
“I just want to win a championship because I like to win and because this team likes to win,” Parker said. “I don’t think I have anything else left to prove to myself and to the game. I don’t play for that.”