September 25, 2021
Game of rivals: The side stories within Chicago Sky versus Minnesota Lynx
A coach facing his former boss, former SEC rivals and a split series this season all add intrigue to this second-round playoff matchup
One can hardly imagine a better matchup of rivals when the No. 6 seed Chicago Sky take on the No. 3 seed Minnesota Lynx on Sunday at the Target Center in Minneapolis at 5 p.m. EDT/4 p.m. CDT. With everything on the line for both teams in the winner-take-all game, there’s a lot at stake. As Sky guard Allie Quigley said, “No one wants to go home.”
Here are some of the side stories that make this matchup so compelling:
“Da Coach” (Reeve) versus The Assistant (Wade)
In 2017, current Sky head coach and general manager James Wade accepted an assistant coaching position under Minnesota Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve. That year, the Lynx won their fourth championship in seven years. It is also their most recent title. After five seasons, they’re hungry for another trophy.
“She taught me everything I know about coaching,” Wade said when the teams clashed in the regular season. “We’ve known each other a long time.”
However, he doesn’t think it’s an advantage to understand his former boss’s style of coaching. “I know Cheryl, but so does everyone [in this league].”
Wade earned WNBA Coach of the Year honors his first season with the Sky in 2019, after leading them to the playoffs for the first time since 2015.
What’s the key to getting a win on Sunday, according to Wade? “Not letting them go to the line 30 times, like we did in the last game,” he said in Saturday’s press conference. “They had come off a game against the Las Vegas Aces where they had no free throws. We’ve talked about that in practice, not letting them get to the free-throw line.”
Will the student outshine the teacher? It remains to be seen.
The history of the Sky-Lynx rivalry
The teams have met 17 times since 2006. The Lynx have won nine of those contests, and this season, the teams have traded wins and margins of victory.
On June 21, the Sky bested the Lynx 105-89 in Minnesota. In their second win of a seven-game winning streak, Quigley scored a season-high 23 points, and Courtney Vandersloot became the fourth player in WNBA history with 2,000 career assists. For the Lynx, Napheesa Collier scored 27 points, Sylvia Fowles had 14 points, Kayla McBride shot just 1 of 5 from the field and Crystal Dangerfield made just 2 of 8 shots.
On Aug. 21, at Wintrust Arena in Chicago, it was a different story. Sky star Candace Parker sat out after re-aggravating her left ankle injury, which had caused her to miss seven games earlier in the season. Despite Vandersloot and Quigley scoring 27 points apiece, the Lynx put on an offensive show in the fourth quarter, when Dangerfield had nine of her 16 points. That put Minnesota over the hump, 101-95.
SEC rivals: Candace Parker and Sylvia Fowles
Parker and Fowles have frequently been rivals since Parker’s Tennessee Lady Volunteers took on Fowles’ LSU Lady Tigers in the late aughts. While Parker’s Lady Vols won back-to-back NCAA championships in 2007 and 2008, Fowles led the Tigers to the Final Four three times and was named SEC Defensive Player of the Year in 2008.
On a poignant note, they did go into the SEC Hall of Fame together.
In the 2008 WNBA Draft, Parker and Fowles went No. 1 and No. 2 overall. Parker went to the Los Angeles Sparks and became a legend. Fowles was chosen by the Sky and became a fearsome center in her own right, leading the team to the WNBA Finals in 2014. She declined a contract extension and sat out half the 2015 season before the Lynx came calling. She was a part of the 2017 championship season for the Lynx. A win over her former team ought to be satisfying. And Fowles remains ferocious, using every inch of her 6’6 frame to grab rebounds and block shots.
Who will win?
Quigley had an interesting and refreshingly honest answer to this question at Saturday afternoon’s presser. “It depends on who wants it more,” she said. ” It’ll be the one that’s the most prepared.”
Quigley’s wife, “General” Courtney Vandersloot, agreed. “We have to be at our very best to beat any team,” Vandersloot said after beating the Dallas Wings on Thursday. “We have a lot of parts, but this team looks at us to be the leaders, to be aggressive, to get everyone on the same page and make things easier. Our impact right from the very beginning needs to be at a high level.”
On a positive note, the Sky’s latest injury report indicates that all of the players are available for Sunday’s game.
According to FiveThirtyEight, Chicago has just a 23 percent chance of winning the game. I respectfully disagree. Expect a close game, lots of drama and a fast-paced defensive and offensive showdown. But the Sky are thirsting and hungering this year, and if they stay focused, they can prevail. I predict that the Sky will win 80-75.