After a season of ebbs and flows that included losing streaks, a changing of coaches and injuries to core talent, the Chicago Sky have officially punched their ticket to the WNBA playoffs for the fifth-consecutive year. Chicago defeated the Minnesota Lynx in their final home game 92-87. The win eliminated the Los Angeles Sparks from playoff contention.
The Sky started off sluggish on the offensive end. While they had some good looks and kept the ball moving, the shots wouldn’t fall. At one point in the first quarter, the Sky were 21 percent from the field compared to 69 percent for the Lynx.
From the second quarter onward, Chicago significantly closed the shooting gap, finishing with a 46.7-percent performance from the field compared to Minnesota’s 50.8 percent. More notably, the Sky outshot the Lynx in 3-point percentage, 50 percent to 36.8 percent. Leading the charge in that latter category was Kahleah Copper and Marina Mabrey. Along with her team-high 20 points, Copper went 5-for-8 from beyond the arc, including a 3 which she drained in the face of Diamond Miller, drawing a technical foul. Mabrey was not far behind with 19 points, going 4-for-7 from downtown.
Courtney Williams had another good night of playmaking that included 13 points and 11 assists. Alanna Smith, who returned after being out with a concussion, finished solidly with 11 points. Elizabeth Williams had four points, four rebounds and four assists.
How Chicago punched their playoff ticket
It ultimately was the following three categories that carried Chicago over the hump and into the playoffs:
The bench came alive
Without Rebekah Gardner and Isabelle Harrison for almost the entire season, Chicago’s bench was depleted of depth. Yet, Dana Evans, Ruthy Hebard and Sika Kone’ came through in big ways.
Evans, who debuted her new Jordan Brand shoe, was a commanding presence who played with the tremendous energy characteristic of somebody worthy of Sixth Player of the Year. She finished with nine points and was 3-for-4 from the free throw line. Some on the sidelines were shouting, “It’s gotta be the shoes!”
Hebard was ubiquitous. She was all over the court and was effective in more ways than one. She finished with the highest shooting percentage on the team at 80 percent, was perfect from the free throw line and totaled 10 points. Kone’ was relentless on the glass and scored when she got the chance. She led the team with 10 total rebounds, seven of which were defensive boards. She finished with six points.
In total, the Sky dominated the Lynx 25-1 in bench points.
The Sky compensated for their early shooting woes with top-notch pressure-packed defense. Even though the Lynx were shooting better, the Sky kept the game low scoring for much of the first half. And as the game progressed, they held their defense together.
Above all, the Sky were consistent at both ends, which has been one of their Achilles’ heels this season. Too often, they have gone on a run, gotten confident and then fallen apart in a game’s latter stages. But after they outscored the Lynx 28-20 in the second quarter, they never gave in. Even when it looked as if Minnesota would make a serious comeback, Chicago stood strong.
Final thoughts from Vatansaver, Copper
Afterwards, interim head coach Emre Vatansaver expressed unmitigated joy about his team. He also emphasized the importance of being a player-first coach, ensuring that his players do not just survive but thrive. “This is not about me,” he said. “I was trying to make my goal when I took over the job that this is going to be our season. My motivation was to make the journey for them enjoyable. To see my players make the playoffs gives me a lot of joy because these guys are in the spotlight and trying to do something to advance everyday.”
Copper spoke on the team’s state of mind as they enter the playoffs after a season of immense difficulties. “Going into the postseason, you see teams peak at the right time,” she said. “That is what we wanted to do. We had some pressure. We wanted to make the playoffs but it was important for our mentality to change because our backs were up against the wall. So this is when you see the true character, you see teams come together, you see teams working it out offensively and defensively.”
Currently, the Sky are the No. 8 seed, which would result in a first-round series against the No. 1 seed Las Vegas Aces. Yet, playoff matchups will not be finalized until the buzzer sounds on Sunday’s six-game slate. Entering the final day of regular-season action, the playoff picture is:
- No. 1 seed: Las Vegas Aces (33-6)
- No. 2 seed: New York Liberty (32-7)
- No. 3 seed: Connecticut Sun (27-12)
- No. 4 seed: Dallas Wings (21-18)
- No. 5 seed: Atlanta Dream (19-20)
- No. 6 seed: Minnesota Lynx (19-20)
- No. 7 seed: Washington Mystics (18-21)
- No. 8 seed: Chicago Sky (17-22)