September 16, 2020
Sun sets on Sky’s season
What's next for Chicago after an early ending
Welcome to The Next: A basketball newsroom brought to you by The IX. 24/7/365 women’s basketball coverage, written, edited and photographed by our young, diverse staff, dedicated to breaking news, analysis, historical deep dives and projections about the game we love.
Subscribe to make sure this vital work, creating a pipeline of young, diverse media professionals to write, edit and photograph the great game, continues and grows. Subscriptions include some exclusive content, but the reason for subscriptions is a simple one: making sure our writers and editors creating 24/7/365 women’s basketball coverage get paid to do it.
PALMETTO, FL – SEPTEMBER 15: Courtney Vandersloot #22 of the Chicago Sky drives to the basket against the Connecticut Suns on September 15, 2020 (Photo courtesy of Connecticut Sun PR)
Alyssa Thomas came skying in for an offensive rebound early in the fourth.
The putback went wide into a sea of blue jerseys, but Thomas grabbed another offensive board. And then she grabbed another, her tenth offensive rebound of the night and a WNBA playoff record.
Call it effort, call it hustle, call it whatever you want: Thomas and the Sun had it in Tuesday night’s single-elimination playoff game and the Sky didn’t.
“I just remember looking from the bench and seeing them out-tough us for rebounds,” Sky general manager and head coach James Wade said after the game. “It’s something that we’ve talked about this entire time that we knew what they were going to do. The fact that we couldn’t get one rebound, it’s a little disheartening.”
Chicago was lively in the first half despite the rebounding deficit, keeping things even at 41-41 through two quarters. But a disastrous third quarter doomed the Sky.
The team’s energy, a sore spot all season, plummeted after the break and the Sun never looked back.
It wasn’t so much a gut punch for Chicago despite entering this season with championship expectations. The team that suited up Tuesday night wasn’t the same as the squad that entered the Wubble in July.
Injuries to superstar-in-waiting Diamond DeShields and versatile forward Azurá Stevens lowered the ceiling on the Sky’s season. But even at full health, Chicago had its share of shortcomings.
A bad defense, fluctuating intensity on both ends of the floor and problems getting to line tormented the Sky all season.
“[Injuries] definitely changed us, but I think we were capable to win more games,” Wade said. “It just showed what we need to improve at next year.
Chicago returns most of its core next season, with only Cheyenne Parker entering free agency this offseason. Team chemistry has been a strength of the Sky the past two seasons, and that should only improve next year.
“You know, we enjoy each other so much,” Vandersloot said after the game. “We play really well together. We love playing together so that’s the hardest part about all this is now we have to say goodbye. You know, for another six months seven months or so and so, you know, we’re hurting right now. We don’t want to go. It came too fast, but at the end of the day we know that this is a good group and we’re going to come back stronger from this.”
But team chemistry can only carry a team so far. Health and the product the Sky put on the floor need to improve through if Chicago is going to realize their championship aspirations.
“I’m just hoping everybody comes back, just confident,” Sky guard Kahleah Copper said after the game. “I know we lost, but I think what we had here, we still had enough. It would have taken a little bit extra effort and just a little more for us to give, but I still think we had enough.”
Copper is right: the overall talent, injuries or not, is there for Chicago.
Last year was a welcome surprise given the team’s previous two seasons and their rookie head coach. This year was a disappointment considering the lofty expectations heading into the season, even with the unusual format.
There will be larger questions to answer next year if the team doesn’t start to address its issues.
“I want them to take the loss with them and just understand that we have to come back better,” Wade said. “Our goal is to bring a championship to this franchise and that’s it.”