Truth, justice, and the fourth quarter. These are ideals the Sky try to uphold almost every day, but virtue is easier to describe than execute. In the first-ever postseason matchup between these two clubs, the Chicago Sky fell to the New York Liberty, 98-91.
“This is playoff basketball,” Liberty head coach Sandy Brondello told reporters after the game. “We found a way to win.”
Basketball is truly a game of runs; the Sky thought their six point lead would be safe with 3:23 left in the fourth quarter. However, the Sky missed 10 out of their last 11 shots that would have helped keep the game out of reach. Meanwhile, the Liberty went on a 13-0 run to end the game; that strong run would seal the fate of both teams.
The Liberty went into Game 1 marked as underdogs, bestowed the seventh seed. Sabrina Ionescu, Natasha Howard, Betnijah Laney and old friend Stefanie Dolson all recorded double figures in scoring. Dolson actually tied a single-game playoff high by landing three 3-pointers against her former squad. Ionescu put up 10 points in the fourth quarter, helping propel her team to the finish line.
“It takes heart and grit. You just have to believe. I keep telling this team, why not us?” Ionescu shared with reporters.
Kahleah Copper’s postseason grit certainly blossomed in this matchup. Copper recorded 20 plus points for the fourth time in her last six playoff games. The 2021 Finals MVP’s postseason masterclass included an impressive rebound, running on the baselines to keep the ball in-bounds to find Allie Quigley, who promptly landed a three.
Five Sky players scored in double figures, including Copper, Courtney Vandersloot, Candace Parker, Allie Quigley, and Azurá Stevens from off the bench.
The Sky finished the regular season with their winningest record in franchise history, going 26-10 but found themselves in the two-seed after falling to the Las Vegas Aces in the second to last game of the regular season.
“Any time you start the playoffs, it’s a brand new season. Record goes out the window. We gotta run a fluid offense and get stops defensively,” Candace Parker told reporters.
It’s not ideal to lose the first game of a best-of-three postseason first round. Now, the Sky must uninstall any trepidations and readjust to what’s now an elimination game, or their dream of running it back to another chip will fall short. Following is a short assessment of what needs to be done to recrown Skytown.
Live, Don’t Die By the Three
The Sky ended Wednesday evening by shooting 28% from three; they need to revitalize their plays in order to have their shots fall. Allie Quigley is not the Sky’s only viable three shooter. Azurá Stevens, Candace Parker, and Emma Meesseman are verified three point shooters, as opposing teams have figured out that the ball will eventually land in Quigley’s hands.
On the flip side, the Sky have been rather permissive with the opposition’s threes. The Liberty shot 44.0% from three, a result of Stefanie Dolson and Natasha Howard being left open.
Busting the Slump(s)
Bricking from three is one thing. The Sky, who were once the top free-throw shooting team in the W, are now in a free throw slump. It’s true they need to take every chance to get to the line – they were second in the league in Free Throw Percentage, at 82.3%. On Wednesday, they landed 16 out of 22 chances (72.7%) Free baskets can’t be missed.
Stop Missing Shots Already
Maybe too obvious of an observation, but the Sky have fallen upon some poor shooting games. This didn’t seem like one of them, until they missed 10 out of the last 11 shots of the game.
Candace Parker assessed the situation post-game. “We didn’t get the best looks. Defensively, we have to do a better job. Rotations…if we’re gonna put two on the ball, having pressure. We were up seven twice. We made mistakes, missed layups, missed shots, missed assignments.”
Sky in three? Sky in three.
The new playoff format, a best-of-three, will find the Sky back at it again at home on Saturday morning. Tip-Off at Wintrust Arena is at 11 a.m. CT and the game will be aired on ESPN. If the Sky are victorious on Saturday, the teams will meet for a winner-takes-all Game 3 on Tuesday, August 23 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.
Candace Parker’s attitude towards the next game holds the mentality the Sky must adapt in order to survive.
“It’s a must win. It’s an elimination game. New York is a good team. There are a lot of things we need to do better, and I’d be saying that if we won that game.”