May 21, 2021 

The Answer: Kahleah Copper sets the tone for the Sky’s unbeaten start

Copper's hot start keeps Chicago moving despite injuries and turnover woes

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Kahleah Copper (2) of the Chicago Sky goes up for a layup against the Atlanta Dream’s Monique Billings (25) during their game on May 19, 2021. (Photo credit: Getty Images)

Two years ago, winning the first two games of the season—on the road, no less—would have been considered a promising start for the Chicago Sky. Two years later, promise has given way to expectation, and Chicago’s 2-0 start has generated more questions than statements.

On Wednesday, the Atlanta Dream dissolved a 20-point Chicago lead down to one. Dream guard Courtney Williams caught fire and teammate Chennedy Carter followed suit. Chicago needed someone to stop the bleeding.

As has been the case in this young season, Sky guard/forward Kahleah Copper had the answer. Check that — Kahleah Copper was the answer.

With just over three minutes left, she blew past Williams at the top of the key, elevated and finished a layup high off the glass, giving the Sky a three-point lead. Chicago held on to win, 85-77, and Copper led the Sky in scoring with 23 points.

“We were down a couple of players, so it was important for us to stick it out like we did,” said Copper. “[Winning two games on the road] fuels us. It gets us prepared for a long season, and we have a stretch at the end of June where we’re all on the road, so this is just the beginning for us.”

Copper’s 42 points and 13 free-throw attempts through two games is the best over any two-game stretch of her career. The free-throw attempts are especially welcome for a team that has had trouble getting to the line consistently during Wade’s tenure. The Sky finished last in free throw rate (free-throw attempts per field goal attempt) in 2020; this year, they lead the pack. Copper’s ability to bring the ball up the court, finish in transition and take defenders off the dribble has made her a primary option in Chicago’s offense, especially as guard Diamond DeShields has struggled to begin the season.

Wednesday’s victory nearly mirrored the Sky’s previous win at Washington, as the Sky imposed their will through two quarters before faltering. This time, the opponent nearly came all the way back.

“I think defensively, we were solid. I think we turned the ball over, and that’s what caused them to get out and make some runs on us,” Wade said of Wednesday’s third quarter. “Their pressure and that zone—we thought we prepared for it, but we got away from preparation because they didn’t go to it much in the first half.”

The defensive pressure from Atlanta forced the Sky into 24 turnovers, 14 of which came in the second half. Copper’s foul trouble, as well as the absences of guard Allie Quigley and forward Candace Parker, left Chicago with a dearth of ball-handlers. However, Wade said that Parker’s ankle injury was only a minor twist and that Quigley likely would have played if it was the postseason instead of a regular-season game.

There was no update on forward Azurá Stevens, who remained out with a foot injury and has yet to step on the court this season. Ruthy Hebard and Astou Ndour-Fall held down the frontcourt, combining for 33 points and 21 rebounds.

Although the Sky haven’t played a complete game yet, they’ve been able to count on Copper to fill in the gaps.

“The first game, it was us trying to gel and see how we’re working together. Today, it showed we had enough,” Copper said after Wednesday’s win. “[Courtney Vandersloot] told us in the huddle before the game, ‘Although we’re down, we have enough right here in our circle.’ We believed in that and we just came out and showed our depth, showed what we can do even with what we’re missing.”

Written by Chris Pennant

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