The ultimate goal in sports is to win championships. Championships are sacred, no matter how they come about. And the fun of the playoffs is that every seed has a change to win it all. Even an 8-seed in the NBA or a 16-seed in NCAA basketball.
But there is always the desire to do well in the regular season as well so that you can say you were one of the best teams the whole way through. The 2022 Chicago Sky are looking to put it all together and follow up a franchise-best 26-10 season with a title after winning it all as a 16-16 team last year.
They are of course looking to be the first repeat WNBA champion since the 2002 Los Angeles Sparks. The Houston Comets four-peated and then Sparks repeated to make up the first six seasons of the league. Since then, there have been no back-to-back champs.
The Sky have used their 2021 title as a springboard toward setting a standard of excellence. They have truly played like defending champions this year and are hopeful about booking both the past two years in WNBA history as theirs.
Chicago was the No. 1 team in the league at the All-Star break and was the No. 1 team on Aug. 10 as well, with just four games to go in the regular season. The Las Vegas Aces defeated the Sky on Aug. 11 to take over first place and held on to the No. 1 seed they seemed destined for when they started the season 9-1 (Chicago started 6-3).
The Sky went 1-2 over their final three regular-season games, winning their final game over the Phoenix Mercury to ensure that Phoenix fell to the No. 8 seed. As a result, the No. 2 seed Sky will face the No. 7 seed New York Liberty in the first round.
Here is a preview of that series from the Sky’s perspective. For a preview of this series from the Liberty’s perspective click below:
Game 1 : Wednesday, Aug. 17 at 8 p.m. ET vs. New York Liberty (ESPN2)
Game 2: Saturday, Aug. 20 at 12 p.m. ET vs. New York Liberty (ESPN)
Game 3: Tuesday, Aug. 23 at TBD at New York Liberty (if necessary)
Regular-season series (Sky won 3-1)
May 11 in Chicago: Sky 83, Liberty 50
This was the Sky’s first win of the season and second game overall. It was a statement WNBA debut for 31-year-old rookie Rebekah Gardner (14 points, 6-of-9 from field, two steals), who wouldn’t let up all season and earned my vote for the All-Rookie team. Dana Evans led a balanced Chicago attack with 15 points as the stars took a back seat in the scoring column. Candace Parker (11 points, six rebounds, four assists), Emma Meesseman (10 points, six rebounds, four assists) and Courtney Vandersloot (eight points, six rebounds, six assists) all stuffed the stat sheet. Kahleah Copper, Allie Quigley and Julie Allemand did not play.
The Sky led by seven after one, by 19 at the break and by 23 after three. They won field-goal percentage 45.6 to 33.3, 3-point percentage 45.5 to 13.3 (10 made threes to two) and the turnover margin by seven (forcing 15). They held Natasha Howard and Betnijah Laney to eight points apiece. Sabrina Ionescu, who had 25 points in her previous game (New York’s opener) was held to two points on 0-of-5 shooting from the field.
June 12 in Brooklyn: Sky 88, Liberty 86
This game saw a Vandersloot game-winning three with 0.9 seconds left. Vandersloot finished with 20 points, six boards and 10 helpers while Meesseman had 20, 11 and five to go along with two steals and two blocks. Quigley (16 points) and Copper (13 points) were also in double figures, but Parker was held to four points. Meesseman was 10-of-14 from the field.
The Liberty led for most of the game and their biggest lead was eight; all this without Laney. The Sky’s biggest lead was four. Ionescu had a triple-double of 27 points, 13 rebounds and 12 assists. The Liberty’s next-highest scorer was Stefanie Dolson with 12 points, so it was Ionescu doing most of the damage. The Liberty won field-goal percentage 48.5 to 46.1 and 3-point percentage 47.8 to 33.3 (11 made threes to six), but Chicago won rebounds 41-26, offensive rebounds 12-2, second chance points 11-2 and points in the paint 48-30.
July 23 in Brooklyn: Liberty 83, Sky 80
Both Vandersloot and Laney missed this game.
This was seen as a bonus win for New York. The Liberty knew their final eight games were all against the bottom seven, aka beatable teams and teams they could gain ground on in the race for the final three playoff spots. This was their 10th-to-last game and their ninth-to-last was against Chicago, too. The Liberty knew they could afford to lose both because they could still make a great playoff push afterwards, which they did, going 6-2 and making the postseason. But they won this first of a back-to-back against the Sky, which was not only a bonus at the time, but also now gives them confidence as they face the Sky in the first round.
The Liberty again led for most of the game and this time by as much as 10, while Chicago’s biggest lead was three. New York showed a lot of resolve, coming back from down three with 43 seconds to go and down two with 19 seconds to go. Ionescu converted on the game-winning 3-point play with 9.7 seconds left.
Ionescu had 17 points, eight rebounds and nine assists. Howard had 16 points, 10 boards and four steals.
Parker led the Sky with 21 points and 11 rebounds to go along with three assists and two steals. Copper added 17 points and seven boards while Gardner had 16 points, three assists and four steals. Copper was 9-of-11 at the line.
The Sky were doomed by 37 percent shooting from the field and 3-of-24 shooting from three, though they did attempt 29 free throws (14 more than the Liberty). New York shot 43.1 percent from the field and 7-of-18 from distance.
Twenty forced turnovers and a plus-nine turnover margin couldn’t bring Chicago the win.
July 29 in Chicago: Sky 89, Liberty 81
Both Parker and Laney missed this game.
This was the game following the July 23rd game for both teams, with the Sky playing, and losing, in the Commissioner’s Cup championship game in between on July 26. The Sky restored WNBA order by exacting revenge on the Liberty.
The eight-point margin of victory was the largest lead of the contest for either side. The Sky trailed most of the first half and led most of the second, but gave up the advantage with 3:14 to go and needed a Copper offensive rebound and tough layup at 2:51 to retake the lead for good.
Vandersloot had 23 points, six rebounds and nine assists while Copper had 16 points, 11 boards and three helpers. Vandersloot was 9-of-12 at the free throw line.
New York was led by its two All-Stars; Ionescu had 16 points and six assists and Howard had 15 points, 10 rebounds, four helpers, three steals and two blocks. Marine Johannès added 13 points and five assists.
Chicago won field goal percentage 44.8 to 43.1 and 3-point percentage 38.9 to 26.9 (both teams made seven treys).
This looks a little scary for the Sky. The Liberty were competitive with them each of the last three times the two teams met.
Ionescu was a major factor in all three games the Liberty held their own in; she was practically non-existent in the embarrassing loss.
Vandersloot had arguably her two best games of the season against the Liberty; they account for two of her five 20-point performances. Both games were Sky wins, but both were very close. Chicago won much more comfortably in a game where she wasn’t as dominant. That being said, Dana Evans leading the team in scoring probably isn’t the formula the Sky want in this series and that’s what happened in that blowout. It will be interesting to see which player starring will bring out the best in the Sky. Last year it was of course Copper.
The Sky have to be careful to not let the Liberty make a ton more threes than them. New York is first in the league with 9.7 made threes per game and tied for fourth in percentage at 35.1. In the games where it was competitive, New York made five more threes, four more threes and the same amount of threes, respectively. In the blowout Chicago win, the Sky made eight more threes.
It was hard to determine the Sky’s best player entering this season. In our Top 30 player vote, Parker was the top-ranked Sky player on two ballots, while it was Copper on two others and Vandersloot on one (mine). But now that the season is over, it’s clear that Parker has had the best season of the three (and at age 36). She averaged 13.2 points per game, which isn’t very high for a best player on a WNBA team (Copper led the way with 15.7), but her 8.6 rebounds and 4.5 assists were impressive and of Sky players, she was my one vote for an All-WNBA team (Second Team). Parker had two triple-doubles this season and is tied with Ionescu for most in a WNBA career with three.
I really feel that Vandersloot is underrated as a scorer and, as mentioned, she has had some monster games against the Liberty. As always, her decision-making on when to call her own number will be crucial — she’s shooting 36.7 percent from three with 0.9 makes per game. She was second in the league in assists per game this year with 6.5.
Copper joined Parker and Vandersloot at the All-Star Game and her chemistry with those two is phenomenal. Her 15.7 points per game is a career high and she’s scored in double figures in 14 straight games, including a 28-point performance last Thursday. She’s got a lot to live up after an incredible 2021 playoff run that was capped with a Finals MVP award.
Meesseman was also an All-Star and joined Parker, Vandersloot and Copper on our Top 30 player list. She continued to be an excellent distributing big this year with 3.8 assists per game and made a bigger impact than her 12.4 points per game indicate, namely because those points came efficiently. She was third in the league with a field goal percentage of 57.1. Like Copper, she is a former Finals MVP, with her award coming in 2019 with the Washington Mystics.
Chicago X factor
Gardner is the player who takes Chicago to another level. She has wowed the league as a 32-year-old rookie with 8.4 points and 1.4 steals per game while shooting 54.2 percent from the field. She is also an incredible defender and will energize the crowd with scrappy plays. Repeating is hard and Gardner is a new addition who, along with Meesseman, could make the difference for the Sky.
- Offense (107.7 offensive rating, 3rd)
- Defense (101.5 defensive rating, 4th)
- Field goal percentage (48.1 percent, 1st)
- 3-point percentage (35.1 percent T4th)
- Free throw percentage (82.3 percent, T2nd)
- Defensive rebounds per game (27.6, 3rd)
- Defensive rebounds allowed per game (24.6, T2nd least)
- Defensive discipline (15.8 opponents FTA per game, 2nd least)
- Getting to the line (16.6 FTA per game, 10th)
- Offensive rebounds per game (7.2, 8th)
- Offensive rebounds allowed per game (8.6, T8th least)
- Turnovers forced (13.1, 9th)
Li Yueru (personal)
Phoenix is at least a little dangerous because of the streaky shooting of Sophie Cunningham and Diana Taurasi (if available), but even with Taurasi, I just think that team is missing too much talent to win a playoff game. New York, on the other hand, has their big three of Ionescu, Howard and Laney and with that core I feel like they can be a borderline contender in the near future, maybe with some more pieces surrounding it. So I think they are dangerous as a No. 7 seed, even in this season where the Top 5 teams have been so dominant. But I think the Sky, with their championship experience, will find a way to win two more close games against the Liberty without having to play a Game 3.
Chicago in 2.