September 27, 2021
‘We’ve toed the water of greatness’: Chicago Sky find their identity
With the win, the Sky advances to the semi-finals for a best-of-five series against the No. 1 seeded Connecticut Sun
Question: How does a No. 6 seed (Chicago Sky) beat a No. 3 seed (Minnesota Lynx) anyway?
Answer: By becoming the team we thought they were all along.
After underachieving all season, with a mediocre .500 regular-season record, the Sky put on a ferocious performance at the Target Center in Minneapolis in Round 2 of the single-elimination games.
Facing newly crowned WNBA Defensive Player of the Year Sylvia Fowles, the Sky never trailed after the first 10 minutes in an 89-76 trouncing. With the win, the Sky moves on to the semi-finals for the first time since 2016.
How’d they do that?
It’s hard to believe at this point that the Sky lost four of six games to close out the regular season. Or that Sky Head Coach and General Manager James Wade, a former assistant coach for Cheryl Reeve, was 1-6 against his mentor and boss prior to the game.
“(The Sky) know who they are,’’ Reeve said* at Sunday’s postgame. “They were so persistent in their identity, and we couldn’t break that.”
Indeed, the Sky launched an all-out offensive and defensive showdown on the Lynx floor, showing more confidence than they had the entire regular season holding Fowles to just 17 points and just four in the second half.
Now, that’s defense!
Courtney Vandersloot led the Sky with 19 points. That’s what a good ‘General’ does when the team… and the season… are on the line.
“I (said) before the game I was gonna be aggressive,” said Vandersloot in postgame comments. “I just wanted to get to that next round, it was all that was on my mind. So I just wanted to be aggressive and hopefully make some shots today.”
Altogether, six Sky players were in double figures: All-Star Kahleah Copper continued her breakout season, scoring 16 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. Azurà Stevens added 15 points, Diamond DeShields had 14 and Allie Quigley rounded out the six with 11.
And now, the ‘real’ playoffs begin
With the win, the Sky advances to the semi-finals for a best-of-five series against the No. 1 seeded Connecticut Sun.
Before Sunday’s game against the Lynx, team leader Candace Parker defined when the playoffs really begin. “Playoffs start when the road team wins a game on a home floor. The playoffs will start or end for us [on Sunday].”
Last season in the COVID “Wubble,” the Sky fell to the Connecticut Sun in the first single-elimination round 94-81.
That only adds fuel to the fire in the belly of the collective group.
“We’ve been working all season to be playing our best basketball right now so we’re feeling pretty good,” Vandersloot said in postgame comments. “Obviously Connecticut has been playing really good basketball … but we’re going to focus on us and try to continue the momentum.”
The ‘momentum’ Vandersloot speaks of started when the Sky beat Connecticut in back-to-back games at Wintrust Arena — 81-75 on June 17 and 91-81 on June 19 — before the Sun defeated the Sky at home, 74-58, two weeks later.
But thanks to the WNBA’s playoff system, despite winning their last 14 games and securing the bye weeks, the Sun haven’t played since Sept. 19, nearly 10 days ago. Will the time off give them that extra burst of energy, or will the momentum of the moment carry the Sky?
The real outcome will rest on the shoulders of the team leaders. For the Sun, it’s Jonquel Jones. For the Sky, it’s always Parker who lifts the team and helps them rise to the occasion.
“We’ve toed the water of greatness so much this year, and we haven’t quite gotten over it,” Parker said after their win over the Dallas Wings. “We’re a team that does things when we have to. Hopefully, we realize we still have to.”
The Sky in five. They’re at the peak of their energy and commitment to the ball and each other. They’re sharp. The lapses they’ve experienced in defense and energy throughout the season haven’t been seen in the last two games. Though the same flaws can haunt them in a five-game series, they tend to come out stronger the next game. We’ll see.
Game 1 is scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 28, at Mohegan Sun Arena, with tip-off set for 7:00 p.m. CT (8:00 p.m. ET) on ESPN2.
* An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported Reeve had said this “through tears”. The quote was actually distorted by the recording of the video.