With the stench of their 84-63 loss to the New York Liberty on August 11 still in the air, the Chicago Sky returned to Madison Square Garden Thursday night for redemption. Their fourth matchup of the season, the Sky (18-12) turned the tables on the conference leading Liberty with an utterly dominating 82-60 victory.
MVP Candidate Elena Delle Donne returned after missing the last two games with an ankle injury with a team-leading seven points in the first quarter. Chicago, 4 of 6 from three-point range, finished the first quarter with a seven-point edge over the Liberty (21-8).
Delle Donne continued to make her presence known on both ends of the court throughout the rest of the first half. Along with the 15 points to her name, the attention Delle Donne received from a strong New York defense created opportunities for her Sky teammates. Most notably, Courtney Vandersloot shot 83 percent from the field to finish the half with 16 points.
A frustrated coach Bill Laimbeer watched his Liberty, needing just two wins to solidify their spot at the top of the Eastern Conference standings, march into the locker room at the half in a 19 point hole.
Just four minutes into the second half, Vandersloot's momentum was quickly paused as she was called for her fourth foul of the game. While the key scorer was on the bench in foul trouble, New York did what they could to chip away at the lead. Even with a game high 23-point quarter for the Liberty, Chicago still maintained a 15 point advantage after the third.
The hits kept coming when The Liberty started the fourth quarter without Brittany Boyd, who left the game with wrist pain. Boyd had four points on the night, but more importantly set a tone with her aggressive play and ability to get herself the free throw line.
In the end, a Chicago team known for their dynamic offense proved themselves on the defensive side of the ball holding New York to just 60 points in their 82-60 win.
"If we want to do something special in the playoffs we know that we have to play good defense," Sky's Allie Quigley said of Chicago's efforts. "We know we can score the ball, but defense will be the difference."
Quigley was able to find her rhythm for the first time this season against the Liberty with 19 points. Missing most of the third quarter, Vandersloot still managed to secure 21 points and five assists. Delle Donne rounded out the Sky's powerhouse offense with 19 points and seven rebounds.
"I think our defense is what started it," Vandersloot stated after the win. "When we get stops and play good defense we can then get in transition which makes us tough to guard because we have so many shooters."
Liberty forward Tina Charles finished the night with a team-high 17 points and eight rebounds. Epiphanny Prince managed just 10 points. Indicative of their flat performance, New York finished the night 0 of 7 from behind the arc and shot 35 percent from the field. The loss leaves them not only disappointed, but still one win shy of the single-season franchise record from 2010.
"This is one game where we didn't have it," said Laimbeer following the loss. "It was a good lesson for us when it comes to the energy and effort that we are going to need for the Playoffs. Tonight they had it, and we didn't."
With the victory, Chicago shrinks the gap for first place in the East and enjoy an awfully sweet sense of redemption as they head home to meet the Seattle Storm on Sunday.