May 27, 2024 

Sights and sounds from the Chicago Sky’s home debut against Connecticut

How Alyssa Thomas and DeWanna Bonner spoiled Angel Reese's home debut

CHICAGO—Coming off of two key road wins, the Chicago Sky faced the 4-0 Connecticut Sun in their home debut. For young Sky fans, the home opener meant a chance to see Angel Reese. A troop of 10-year-olds arrived at Wintrust Arena 90 minutes early, shrieking in utter disbelief when Reese took the court.

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The excitement around the league’s leading offensive rebounder surpasses even the excitement for Candace Parker, who returned home to Chicago in 2021. Parker was an icon, but her prime occurred long before the social media era that feeds the anticipation of Reese. When Parker’s fans watched her dunk as a teenager at Naperville Central High School, neither the iPhone nor Instagram existed.

Reese’s stardom is an entirely different beast. Her 3.2 million Instagram followers saw her win a national championship at LSU. They have also watched her on stage with Megan thee Stallion and on the red carpet at the Met Gala.

For the newest generation of women’s basketball fans, Reese is theirs in a way that 38-year-old Parker could not be.

Angel Reese vs. Alyssa Thomas ends in ejection and momentum shift

Given that the Sun’s veteran front court of DeWanna Bonner, Alyssa Thomas, and Brionna Jones is one of the best in the league, Connecticut was a difficult draw for Reese’s home opener. Reese started the game matched up on MVP runner-up Alyssa Thomas.

“She’s one of those players you try to avoid,” Chicago guard Dana Evans said of Thomas before the game. “She’s just really good defensively. She gets you where she wants you.”

Reese tried a post move on Thomas early but failed to get a shot up. Thomas grinned, wearing her signature look of glee cut with a competitive edge. But Reese didn’t back down. Within the first three minutes, she scored a bucket and grabbed an offensive rebound. She also knocked the ball away from Thomas in the open floor, leading to a transition bucket for the Sky.

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Two competitors, a decade apart in age, exemplifying the key question fans have been asking about this WNBA season. How will the league’s highly-anticipated draft class fare against its established stars? At halftime, Reese had 10 points and 2 rebounds, while Thomas had 9 points and 5 rebounds. The Sky led 50-42.

In the third quarter, the intensity of the game increased. As Reese and Thomas went up for a rebound, Thomas put a hand to Reese’s neck. Reese hit the deck hard. After the game, Reese disputed the notion that Thomas was sending her a message as a newcomer to the league.

“It’s not just because I’m a rookie,” Reese said. “I’m a basketball player. They don’t give a damn if I’m a rookie. I want them to come at me. They’re not supposed to be nice to me. I hope y’all know that they’re not supposed to be nice to me or lay down because I’m Angel or because I’m a rookie. Like, thank you AT for sending the message to me because I got back up and I kept going. Me and AT have been cool since we were at Maryland. So I know it’s no hard feelings. And I appreciate her for going at me.”

The Sun came out after Thomas’s departure

After the foul, officials paused the action to review the play. With three minutes remaining in the third quarter, Thomas was ejected with a Flagrant 2. For a home crowd, few moments are as exhilarating as the opposing team’s best player heading for the exits. As Thomas stomped off the court, Wintrust Arena hadn’t been that loud since, well, 45 minutes earlier, when the crowd heard the announcer say, “at forward, from LSU…”

But Thomas’s departure invigorated the Sun. Prior to Thomas’s ejection, DeWanna Bonner had scored only twice. The league’s fifth all-time leading scorer then made her next four shots, including two deep triples and a finger-roll three-point play.

Just like in the 2022 Eastern Conference Semifinals, the dramatic pause in Wintrust Arena swung momentum toward Connecticut. During Game 5 of that series, officials stopped play to review Kahleah Copper‘s foul on Bonner. No flagrant fouls were issued, but after play resumed, the Sky did not score another basket.

A similar sequence occurred in the Sky’s 2024 home opener. After Evans hit a deep three with 5:23 remaining in the fourth quarter, the Sky did not score for the next four minutes. Reese was quiet down the stretch, missing the only three shots she took. As a team, the Sky shot 5-for-15 from the field in the fourth quarter. On her way out, Bonner blew kisses to the crowd. The Sun won 86-82 on the back of her 11 fourth quarter points.

Connecticut Sun forward Dewanna Bonner smiles and makes a 3-point sign with her right hand
Connecticut Sun forward DeWanna Bonner (24) celebrates during the WNBA preseason game between the New York Liberty and the Connecticut Sun at Mohegan Sun Arena, Uncasville, Connecticut, USA on May 09, 2024. (Photo Credit: Chris Poss | The Next).

Will the Sky’s young roster learn to finish close games?

Finishing close games can be tough for a team as young as the Chicago Sky. The pressure of playing in front of a packed arena with the game on the line simply cannot be simulated in practice. Sky Coach Teresa Weatherspoon attributed the late-game scoring drought to poor execution, but executing gets harder when your top three scoring options are new to their roles. Evans is starting for the first time in her career, Reese is still building an offensive toolkit, and Marina Mabrey is taking on a bigger load.

All three players have had bursts of scoring and creativity to start the season. All three have the potential to be more consistent. But right now they are all shooting below 45% from the field. The team’s more efficient scorers – Chennedy Carter and Diamond DeShields – were missing down the stretch against Connecticut. Carter, who scored 11 points off the bench and led the team in oohs and aahs drawn from the crowd, fouled out early in the fourth quarter. Diamond DeShields remains on a minutes restriction and may not always be available late in the game.

In other words: with a team full of youngsters and players recovering from injury, it may take awhile for the Sky to figure out where to go with the ball down the stretch. Connecticut on the other hand, has the luxury of being able to just give the ball to its veterans. Bonner and Thomas are versatile scorers who have proven themselves in clutch settings. The two have a combined 96 playoff starts under their belt; Chicago’s entire starting five has started only 16 playoff games combined.

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Despite first home loss, fan excitement around Sky remains

Lingering around Wintrust Arena after the game, one wouldn’t know the Sky had lost. “Just wait till Cardoso gets back,” said one beaming fan on the way out.

As Weatherspoon emerged from the locker room, the “Let’s go Sky!” chants nearly drowned out the press conference. Dozens of fans craned their necks to catch a glimpse of Angel Reese, who finished the game with 13 points and 5 rebounds.

In Chicago, there is Finals-level excitement around a team that most WNBA commentators do not expect to make the playoffs. But, beyond the team’s star-studded appeal, the Sky’s near-win against a perennial Finals contender in its home-opener is a good reason for fans to stay hopeful.

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Written by Alissa Hirsh

Alissa Hirsh covers the Chicago Sky for The Next. She is also a high school basketball coach at her alma mater and is writing a memoir about the difficulty in leaving her college basketball career behind. Her hometown of Skokie, Illinois, is known for having the top bagel options in the Chicagoland area. Before joining The Next, she co-founded the Sky Townies.

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