September 10, 2020 

Sky drop fourth game in a row, seal playoff matchup with Connecticut Sun

Chicago continues to perplex with issues on both sides of the ball

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The Atlanta Dream beat the Sky 97-89. Photo Credit: Atlanta Dream Twitter Account.

For the Chicago Sky, seeding stopped really mattering a couple of games ago.

With no home-court advantage in the playoffs, most teams outside the top four have either been battling to grab a first-round bye or fighting just to get into the playoffs.

The Sky are doing neither — they clinched their playoff spot last Wednesday and are locked out of a top-four spot by the Phoenix Mercury and Minnesota Lynx. They would have faced the Sun in the first round of the playoffs regardless of the outcome of their game against playoff hopefuls Atlanta Wednesday.

So did Wednesday matter? Does Friday’s bout against the Dallas Wings matter? Does any of this really matter? Well, no, but that’s a discussion for another day.

The Sky do have a question on hand for today though. Are they a legitimate playoff threat or are they destined to get booted in the first round?

Wednesday night’s game sure seemed to put the answer in the latter of the two options. Injuries and season-long issues on defense will do that to you. Let’s review:

Chicago entered the second half with a 10 point lead and then pushed it to 18 points two minutes into the third quarter. The Dream then roared out of a timeout with a 26-8 run thanks in large part to Blake Dietrick, who scored or assisted on 14 of those points.

“I think they picked up the intensity and we kind of relaxed a little,” Sky guard Courtney Vandersloot said of the Dream’s second half. “We thought we were comfortable with an 18 point lead. You know that’s not the team to do it against because they’re going to put 42 minutes together, they play hard the entire time.”

Sky head coach and general manager James Wade summed things up more succinctly after the game.

“We didn’t play,” Wade said.

True, Chicago didn’t play their ideal brand of basketball in the third quarter. They stalled on offense and turned the ball over. The Sky jogged back in transition and the Dream were able to cherry-pick layups as a result.

But these have been issues all year.

Despite the Sky boasting the second-best offense by offensive rating up until their losing streak began, Chicago has struggled all year to make the same mark against the better defenses of the league. In the last four games, the Sky have posted the second-worst offensive rating in the WNBA and their season average has dropped to sixth.

Not much more needs to be said about the Sky’s woeful defense this season, but their inability to shift from offense to defense continued Wednesday. Chicago allows the second-most fast break points and third-most points off turnovers in the league.

What did happen Wednesday that the Sky probably won’t see happen in the playoffs was the total ineffectiveness of their bigs on offense? Even with Azurá Stevens out for the season with a knee injury, Chicago’s thin frontcourt should be more impactful.

“We can’t have our post players total 10 points or 11 points, whatever it was together,” Wade said. “Especially when they (Atlanta) have their backup point guard having 15 points. It’s just not a good look for us and we had one guard that’s out rebounding all our post players. It’s not possible to win games like that.”

That guard, Kahleah Copper, had seven rebounds on the night. Sky rookie Ruthy Hebard, who played 21 minutes, led the bigs with five boards.

“They weren’t rebounding or getting back on defense and that’s where the issue lies,” Wade said. “So maybe it was effort, I don’t know. What the issue comes down to is, I understand that everybody’s tired, but the other team is tired too, so I don’t know what the issue is.”

Chicago’s rebounding has dipped a tad since Stevens’ departure, but the bigger issue Wednesday was the lack of production from Sky forward Cheyenne Parker. Parker, who has been the heart and soul of Chicago’s frontcourt all year, only played 19 minutes against the Dream.

“There’s no reason,” Wade said on why Parker’s minutes totalled less than 20. “I mean, look at the game.”

Parker picked up two fouls early in the game and never got into any sort of rhythm. The Sky’s frontcourt leader finished with only two points, three rebounds, and four turnovers. Chicago center Stefanie Dolson shot two-for-seven from the floor in 15 minutes of play.

Wade instead went small, relying heavily on Kahleah Copper, Allie Quigley, Vandersloot, and Gabby Williams, who combined for three-quarters of Chicago’s scoring. Copper and Vandersloot both played 34 minutes while Williams and Quigley both played 29 or more minutes.

Look out for Wade to conserve his starters as much as possible against the Wings since the only momentum is on the line for the Sky on Friday. Even if fatigue is an issue for all teams around the league, Chicago in particular looks like they could benefit the most from rest.

But, with only nine healthy bodies left for the Sky, Wade won’t have a ton of wiggle room to rest his players.

Written by Nick Niendorf

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