Sky defense shuts down Mercury, Chicago takes 2-1 lead in WNBA Finals

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CHICAGO — Kahleah Copper provided the offense and the Chicago Sky used a dominant defensive effort to move within a win of the franchise’s first WNBA championship.

Copper scored 20 of her 22 points in the first half and Chicago routed the Phoenix Mercury 86-50 on Friday night in Game 3 of the finals.

Chicago will look to close out the best of five series on Sunday.

“I was telling my team. I’m 0-2 in Game 4 closeout at home,” said Candace Parker, who added 13 points. “I don’t want that to continue. We know they are a fantastic team and they’ll come out and be ready. Come back stronger.”

The Sky dominated on both ends, holding Brittney Griner to just four first half points on 1 of 8 shooting after she scored 29 in the Mercury’s overtime win on Wednesday. Chicago also took Diana Taurasi out of the game, holding to her five points on 1 of 10 shooting. Griner finished with 16 points as both of their night’s ended early in the fourth quarter as the Sky kept the lead in the twenties.

Copper set the tone early for the Sky with seven points in the first quarter. She finished a 3-point play to put Chicago up 20-11 at the end of the first quarter. Copper was 5 of 5 from the line in the quarter, which was a drastic difference from Wednesday’s loss. The Sky only attempted four free throws for the entire game.

“Her energy is unmatched. her positivity is unmatched,” said Parker of Copper. “You root for her because she’s a good person. She gives us a lift when we need it on the biggest stage showing the world what we already knew in practice every day.”

The Sky didn’t slow down in the second quarter. They pushed the ball in transition with Allie Quigley and Stefanie Dolson getting easy points in the paint to force a Mercury timeout as the Sky extended the lead to 25-11 with 7:20 left in the second quarter. Copper continued the Sky’s scoring barrage with two three-point play in just a minute of play to put them up 35-16. She capped off the brilliant first half with another basket to put the Sky up 46-24 at the half.

The 22-point halftime lead matched the biggest ever in the WNBA Finals, equaling the mark held by Phoenix which the Mercury did in 2014 in Game 1 against Chicago. That year was the last time either team had been in the championship round.

“We got our butts kicked tonight,” Phoenix coach Sandy Brondello said. “It’s disappointing. They were really, really aggressive. We still got some open looks and missed them. We lost momentum and they grew a lot of confidence. It rattled us a little bit. We’ve got to be better.”

Quigley finished with nine points and Courtney Vandersloot ended the game with 10 assists for Chicago.

The Sky hosted the WNBA Finals for the first time since they played in the finals in 2014 . But on Friday, it featured more star power led by Parker, who starred at west suburban Naperville Central High School before jumping into the national spotlight at Tennessee then continuing her legacy in the WNBA. She joined the Sky before the 2021 season and she is now one win away from completing a remarkable homecoming.

At the end of the press conference, Taurasi made light of a reporter’s question regarding the Mercury final score total of 50 points.

“50? I hope so we can’t be any worst than 50. ”We will be better than 50,” said Taurasi.

SHOOTING DISPARITY

Phoenix shot a WNBA Finals record low 25.8% from the field (16-for-62) while Chicago was an even 50% (30-for-60).

FACES IN THE CROWD

The Sky played their best game of season in front of a sold out crowd that included Chicago Bears starting quarterback Justin Fields and hip hop artist Chance The Rapper. NBA commissioner Adam Silver was in attendance, along with Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker and DePaul women’s head coach Doug Bruno.

BREAKING BARRIERS

Sitting one win away from a championship, Wade reflected on the position he is in as a Black head coach. “I think about it. This is something we can’t escape. We have to represent. The world is a little bit unfair to us the way we’re represented and the way we’re looked at and the chances that we don’t get. You always have to protect yourself at all times.”

Wade would be the third Black male coach to win a WNBA title, joining Michael Cooper who did it with the Los Angeles Sparks and Corey Gaines, who did it with Phoenix.

“You get proud of these moments. Sometimes I have to act like I am supposed to be here,”Wade said. “Even though life has told me that I’m not. It means a lot. It means a lot that my son is here and he gets to see his daddy coach in front of a lot of fans just cheering and he gets to see success so maybe in 15 years it won’t be a big deal for him.”

Karl-Anthony Towns just cleared to walk Saturday following non-COVID illness

Karl-Anthony Towns Offseaon Workout
Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images
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Karl-Anthony Towns has not been in camp with the Timberwolves, sidelined by a non-COVID illness. Beyond that there were not a lot of details, other than his girlfriend Jordyn Woods saying on social media that she had taken him to the hospital.

Towns spoke to the media for the first time this season on Monday and said he was just cleared to walk again on Saturday, but did not get into detail about what he is dealing with.

First, it is Towns’ right if and when to disclose what he went through. This is not an on-court injury leading to a loss of playing time.

Towns has been sidelined before by injury, previously it was COVID. After losing his mother and other family members to the disease, he also had a long battle with it. Fortunately, this is not that virus, but whatever it was it sidelined him for a couple of weeks.

That missed training camp is a setback as the Timberwolves try to get used to a two-big lineup with KAT and Rudy Gobert, plus some other new faces. Still, Towns and Minnesota should be good to go by the start of the season, a team thinking playoffs and much more after spending big this offseason.

Lakers reportedly ‘seriously considered’ Westbrook trade for Hield, Turner

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“If you make that trade, it has to be the right one, you have one shot to do it. So we’re being very thoughtful around the decisions on when and how to use draft capital in a way that will improve our roster.”

That was Lakers GM Rob Pelinka on media day talking about the possibility of the Lakers trading the only two first-round picks they control this decade — 2027 and 2029 — to upgrade this roster around LeBron. Pelinka was clear the Lakers were committed to building a winner around LeBron, “We have one of the great players in LeBron James to ever play the game, and he committed to us on a long-term contract, a three-year contract… He committed to our organization. That’s gotta be a bilateral commitment, and it’s there.”

But should that include a Russell Westbrook trade to Indiana for Buddy Hield and Myles Turner? Shams Charania of The Athletic updated and added to the extensive previous reporting on this trade, saying the Lakers kept the door open right up to the start of training camp but didn’t pull the trigger.

Vice president of basketball operations and general manager Rob Pelinka, owner Jeanie Buss and senior basketball adviser Kurt Rambis seriously considered sending Westbrook and unprotected first-round picks in 2027 and 2029 to the Pacers for center Myles Turner and guard Buddy Hield, sources said. They held a series of meetings in the days leading up to camp to analyze the possible Pacers deal from every angle, with the views of Ham and Lakers executives Joey and Jesse Buss also being strongly considered in the process. The organization even delayed the midweek news conference for Pelinka and Ham as the debate continued…

If they were going to gamble on a make-or-break move of this magnitude, the thinking went, then everyone had to have confidence in the same vision. But when that wasn’t the case, sources say, the choice was made by Pelinka to remain patient and see, yet again, if Westbrook might find a way to make this imperfect fit with the Lakers work.

Hield and Turner would absolutely improve the Lakers. Turner can play the five, is an elite shot blocker who could provide a strong defensive back line next to Anthony Davis, and is a respectable 3-point shooter who can space the floor. He’s a natural fit. Hield brings shooting that the Lakers have coveted for years and need more of now.

That trade would have moved the Lakers up the ladder to a solid playoff team in the West. Would that trade make the Lakers contenders? Probably not. It still would have come back to the bubble version of Davis and LeBron being ready for the final 16-game sprint to have a puncher’s chance (that may be the case regardless of other moves). Also, it would have messed with future free agency plans in Los Angeles — the Lakers can have around $30 million in cap space next summer to chase Kyrie Irving (although Shams reports that’s not in their plans) or other name players, Hield is owed $19.3 million next season and Turner will be a free agent the Lakers would need to re-sign. This deal would end the dream of a free agent taking a little less than the max to come to the Lakers (a dream not likely to come to reality anyway).

As Pelinka said, the Lakers have one shot with trading their two picks to upgrade the roster — they have to hit a home run, this can’t be a solid single. The Lakers were not convinced Hield and Turner could be that home run tandem.

So Los Angeles will go into the season with a starting five of Westbrook, Kendrick Nunn, LeBron, Davis, and Damian Jones, with a bench of Patrick Beverley, Thomas Bryant, Austin Reaves, and Dennis Schroder. The Lakers will see if it fits, how far it looks like this group can take them under new coach Darvin Ham, and watch the market to see what other stars could become available.

The Lakers aren’t done dealing, but it looks like a deal with Indiana is now in the rearview mirror.

PBT Podcast: Philadelphia 76ers 2022-23 season preview

2022-23 Philadelphia 76ers Media Day
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images
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The Philadelphia 76ers are title contenders — if James Harden and Joel Embiid can play up to their potential on the biggest of NBA stages. That hasn’t always happened before, particularly with Harden.

Those two are now set up well. Philadelphia learned its lessons from the playoff loss to Miami last season. GM Daryl Morey rounded out the roster with more toughness and two-way players in the form of P.J. Tucker, Danuel House and DeAnthony Melton. Add in the development of Tyrese Maxey and Matisse Thybulle and you have a deep roster of quality players — down to BBall Paul.

Noah Levick of NBC Sports Philadelphia joins me to discuss if Doc Rivers is ready to take this team to the next level, and if all the additions can come together when it matters. Can Harden shake his history of playoff reputation and lead a team to the Finals?

You can always listen to the entire podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google Play, or anywhere else you get your podcasts.

We want your questions for future podcasts, and your comments, so please feel free to email us at PBTpodcast@gmail.com.

When will LeBron James break Kareem’s all-time scoring record?

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LeBron James is trying not to think about it too much.

“The only time I’ve kind of like thought about it is when someone, you know, been posting on social and it went through my scroll, through my feed, and I’ve seen it,” LeBron said at Lakers’ media day. “And every single time I’m kind of in awe of it, like, wow.”

The wow is breaking Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s all-time NBA scoring record.

It was a record thought almost untouchable at 38,387 points, but now LeBron sits just 1,326 points shy of breaking it — health willing, he should pass Kareem this season.

When? Well, that takes a little math and speculation.

LeBron scored 30.3 points a game last season, but the two seasons prior to that it was closer to 25 points a game. If we split the difference and land at 27.5 points per game, it would take 48-49 games. We have to assume that 37-year-old LeBron (turning 38 just before the New Year) will sit out at least a couple of those first games, pushing this back a few games.

Considering LeBron could slide back in scoring to close to 25 a game again, the smart bet is he breaks Kareem’s record in late January or early February. The Lakers have a five-game East Coast road trip that includes Boston and New York starting Jan. 28 and running through Feb. 4, and that’s about the window.

“To sit here and to know that I’m on the verge of breaking probably the most sought-after record in the NBA, something that people say will probably never be done, I think it’s just super like humbling, for myself,” LeBron said. “I think it’s super cool.

“And you know, obviously Kareem has had his differences, with some of my views and some of the things that I do. But listen, at the end of the day, to be able to be right in the same breath as a guy to wear the same [Lakers] uniform, a guy that was a staple of this franchise along with Magic and Big Game [James Worthy] over there for so many years, especially in the 80s, and a guy that does a lot off the floor as well. I think it’s just super duper dope for myself to be even in that conversation.”

Having been in the spotlight for as long as LeBron has — remember he was on the cover of Sports Illustrated as a high schooler — he can be very practiced, very polished with the media. His brand is smooth, as are his dealings with the press in general.

However, when talking about passing Abdul-Jabbar, it felt like LeBron’s guard was down. He was raw, more reflective and genuinely moved.

“You guys always see me use my hashtag #thekidfromakron and that those are the moments where I really think about that kid from Akron. Walking those streets and, you know, playing basketball when I had actually had a basketball and the hoop, or actually just walking around and air dribbling and shooting into it and invisible hoop you know, and counting 5…4…3…2…1 and, you know, making game-winning shots.

“I’m not going to put too much pressure on it throughout the season. But I think it’s a pretty historical moment when it gets here and you know, as long as my family and friends are all there that’s that’s the most important for me.”

LeBron’s family will undoubtedly be there, and the whole world will be watching. Longevity and LeBron’s ability to be great into age 38 (and beyond) is part of his GOAT argument — and there is no better cornerstone of that argument than being the game’s all-time leading scorer.