May 25, 2021
‘I think our game against Atlanta exposed our weaknesses’
How the Sky need to improve defense and turnovers
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The Chicago Sky’s home opener could have been the stuff of magic. Consider the scenario:
An unbeaten (2-0) Chicago sports franchise would come home to Wintrust Arena, their newly acquired hometown hero would step out onto a Covid-sized full house and take a rejuvenated franchise to the promised land with a thrashing of the 2-1 New York Liberty and triple-double phenomenon Sabrina Ionescu.
The opposite happened, with the Sky opening a five-game homestand with a 93-85 loss in front of 1,257 enthusiastic fans, who hadn’t witnessed live basketball in nearly 700 days.
Candace Parker, said hometown hero, was out with an ankle injury. Backcourt mainstay Allie Quigley was also out with a hamstring injury. Azura Stevens was still playing limited minutes.
The Sky started off well enough, shooting 66.7% from the field and 75% from the three. Tied 43-43 with just over four minutes remaining in the second quarter, the Sky went on a 9-2 run over three minutes, finishing the first half with the game tied at 52.
At the half, Diamond DeShields already had 12 of her 22 points, Courtney Vandersloot, 12 of 14, and and Astou Ndour-Fall, 10 points. All efforts pointed to a great second half.
As l tweeted at the time, “Who wants it more?”
But the second half was a different story, despite the Sky’s best efforts. Ionescu put on an offensive show and finished with 19 points, 12 assists and five rebounds that the Sky was unable to control or match, despite Ruthy Hebard’s career-high four blocks for the second straight game.
It was a career day for Hebard, as she recorded her third career double-double, and finished with 15 points and 10 rebounds.
It was Hebard’s second double-double in as many games, and her third in just eight career starts. On Monday, she was named ‘Player of the Week.’
The Sky fell behind 60-55 with 7:37 left in the third quarter, but went on a 10-2 run midway through the third quarter to take a 65-62 lead. But the Liberty’s 8-2 run over the final 2:30 in the third quarter gave them a 76-72 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
There was a glimmer of hope as the Sky, led by DeShields, cut New York’s lead to 86-81 with just under three minutes to play, but the Liberty outscored the Sky 7-4 over the final minutes of the fourth quarter to preserve the lead and hand the Sky their first loss of the season.
“I think our game against Atlanta exposed our weaknesses,” said a very honest Vandersloot, who finished with 14 points and 16 assists, marking only the third time in WNBA history a player had 14+ points and 15+ assists in a game.
“We were able to do enough to win (in Atlanta), but we have to play 24 seconds of defense,” said Vandersloot. “The (New York Liberty) were able to get a couple of long rebounds for threes. We were out of position early.”
A clearly frustrated Sky head coach James Wade wasn’t accepting any excuses for the loss.
“We’re going to have to learn to deal with adversity,” Wade said. “I don’t want to use the excuse that we have players out or it’s early in the season. I felt this was a game that really exposed things we have to work on. They just beat us at every turn.”
“I didn’t think we were disruptive enough,” he continued. “I know we forced 22 turnovers, but I still thought that their catches were a little easier.
It doesn’t matter who we have on the floor, we can’t make any excuses,” he concluded. “We put a game plan together without those players in mind. I felt like we didn’t execute the game plan. We have to get stronger in that aspect.”
“I don’t think we executed our defensive plan very well,” she said. “We’re going to make some adjustments and continue to get better on the defensive end.”
The Sky will face the Atlanta Dream for the second time in six days on Tuesday. Astou Ndour-Fall previewed what the Sky will have to do as the 1-2 Dream seek revenge on the Sky’s home court.
“It’s going to be a tough game. But we are going to be ready to play our best game of basketball, just like we are every single time.”