September 22, 2021
Chicago Sky’s playoff run: long or short, it’ll be exciting
Under former Head Coach Pokey Chatman, the Sky made it to the WNBA Finals in 2014, but this is the longest consecutive stretch of reaching the playoffs
Which Chicago Sky team will show up when the No. 6-seeded Sky (16-16) hosts the No. 7 seed Dallas Wings on Thursday night in the winner-take-all playoff elimination game at Wintrust Arena, 7 pm CDT?
Will it be the ‘Dr. Jekyll’ team that beat the reigning champion Seattle Storm three times this season, setting a franchise record for points scored in a regular-season game? Or, will it be ‘Mr. Hyde,’ the team the Wings beat twice in the regular season, who were annihilated by the No. 2-seed Las Vegas Aces by nearly the same score last Friday night?
The choice, as always, is theirs.
A moment to celebrate the regular season
This is the third straight season that Chicago Sky Coach and General Manager James Wade has brought this team to the playoffs, with a “win-or-go-home” game. Under former Head Coach Pokey Chatman, the Sky made it to the WNBA Finals in 2014, but this is the longest consecutive stretch of reaching the playoffs.
“We appreciate this moment because playoffs aren’t promised for anyone,” said Chicago Sky General Manager/ Head Coach James Wade, in a press release. “You have seasons full of expectations, but the first goal in mind is reaching the playoffs, so we are just happy to get here.”
And when they were good, they were very good. The Sky finished the 2021 regular season by setting a franchise record in free-throw shooting at 84.5%. They also led the league in assists with 21.8 assists per game. And they are the first team in WNBA history to log assists on more than 70 percent of their baskets.
They were second-best in the WNBA in fast-break points (10.8), points in the paint (38.9) and top three in scoring for the third straight year (83.3 PPG).
“Now it’s a clean slate,” Wade concluded. “So we get to play for our city and for each other. We’re excited.”
Keys to defeating Dallas at Wintrust Arena
- Come out swinging/play with energy
“You got to play every game like it’s your last,” Wade said. “You can look at our roster on paper and say, Hey, they’re great. But if you don’t play, like it’s your last game, then your day is going to be cut short. It’s just how it is. You got to have pride.”
Wade is right. On paper, they do look great. Yet, in the 16 losses of the season, a consistent issue was lackluster play. Throughout the season, there was no real reason why Center Stefanie Dolson said as much after their loss to the Washington Mystics.
“I don’t know, to be honest with you,” she said. “I don’t think anyone knows. I just think it’s hard when you’re not making shots, to create that energy. When you’re not hitting those big shots, those open shots. We missed a lot of layups that we shouldn’t. So I don’t know what to say the reason for the energy was, but we got to fix it.”
The fighting spirit that made 16 wins possible has come at times when there’s been increased motivation. The latest on Sunday, playing Indiana Fever, the Sky played for pride over a team that had a humiliating year. To close out with a win was important.
2. Increase Dallas’s shot volume
“What you want to do is make them increase their shot volume, so their efficiency is low,” said Diamond DeShields said after the Sky’s 98-87 win against the Indiana Fever to close out the regular season.
3. Contain Arike Ogunbowale
The third-year phenom is having a great year and was largely responsible for the Dallas Wings’ two wins over the Sky this season. She’s quick, she reads defenses well, and she’s been able to make shots at key moments. Ogunbowale has been averaging 18.7 points while shooting 38.3 percent from the field and 37.6 percent from behind the three-point line.
“You have to focus on Arike,” explained DeShields. “She’s a great scorer, but I think we have the pieces to do it right.”
The best possible matchup here is to use the Sky’s high scorer, WNBA All-Star Kahleah Copper, who’s averaging 18 ppg, instead of starting guards Allie Quigley and Courtney Vandersloot. Copper’s having a breakout year on both sides of the ball and has proven fearless in key matchups. As she said earlier this year, “A win is a positive.”
4. Follow Candace Parker
Parker’s having a dream season in returning to her native Chicago after 13 seasons with the LA Sparks. She’s averaging 13.3 ppg and 8.9 assists through 21 games with 12 points, 11 rebounds, 5 assists and 2 steals.
She is the one player who makes everyone better. The three-time Ms. Illinois Basketball from Naperville Central and current Defensive Player of the Year is a presence both on and off the court. The Sky have improved their stats significantly since her arrival this summer.
When all else fails, put in the bench
The Sky’s bench, including DeShields, Lexie Brown, rookie Dana Evans, and Ruthy Hebard made all the difference in the last match as five substitutes contributed a whopping 54 points which led to Chicago’s win over Indiana Fever.
“I should have stayed with my bench,” said Wade after the Sky’s worst loss of the season. “That’s my mistake.”
Should the Sky win on Thursday, another single-elimination contest against either third-seeded Minnesota or fourth-seeded and reigning champion Seattle await them.
The Next’s Prediction:
They’re under the gun, they perform. The Sky wins, 75-72.