Rosemont, IL — After losing to the Los Angeles Sparks in the first two semifinal games, the Chicago Sky powered up in a stellar second half performance, sending the Los Angeles defense into a frenzy, and taking the victory. These ladies seem to have a habit of surprising home court performances, as they shell-shocked the Sparks in a transcendent fourth quarter performance, winning 70 to 66.
Tackling the game once again with their leading player, Elena Delle Donne who’s still out with a thumb injury, they faced off against LA in a game that could’ve meant the end of the Sky season with a loss. After the Sparks crushed Chicago at the Staples Center in Game 1 and 2 of the semifinals, most Sky fans could see the end of the road approaching if the blue and yellow ladies didn’t step up.
Defying all odds, Courtney Vandersloot and Imani Boyette put on an epic performance, as they both annihilated Los Angeles — especially in the fourth quarter, to keep their team alive in the playoffs.
Was it the Sky’s chemistry of continuing to pull together without Delle Donne that lead them to victory?
Was it big players stepping up, or was it simply the magic of home court advantage?
“We were confident going into this game because they hadn’t seen our best yet,” said the star of the night Courtney Vandersloot. “Although it was a little discouraging in the first two games, we knew coming home that we had to protect home court, we’re a different team; and if they saw our best, then we were going to put ourselves in a good position to win games.”
With a regular season record 11-6 games at home, and a record of 7-10 on the road for the Windy City ladies, home court advantage has, in a correlational manner, given them some edge in the past — and may have fueled their play Sunday.
“Compared to us, they were extremely hungry to win,” said Los Angeles coach Brian Agler. “I thought that we were like that in LA but not quite like that here and playing at home can do that for you—the momentum, can really work in your favor on that one on your home court.”
The main galvanizing force for the Sky at home was Vandersloot, who ultimately led Chicago to the victory. Especially down the stretch, as she scored the final four points to win the game. And while she was the best player tonight, something else stood out: Chicago’s synergy.
Let’s be honest: how many people picked Chicago to win this game? So what transpired that brought the Sky from the brink of elimination? Something that a stat sheet doesn’t pickup on — and it was the the Sky’s undeniable team chemistry.
With a total of 22 assists, coming from both bench and starting players, Chicago’s teamwork was electric. Boyette began the first half scoring zero of the team’s points, but her engine was full throttle in the second half.
“I haven’t shown up in this series yet. The lights have been kind of bright: I’ve been guarding two of the best players...I was very much a rookie this series,” she said. “My teammates have done a really good job of encouraging me and staying on me so I just knew third time’s the charm.”
Her play was good, but to ultimately win, though, the Sky had to find a way to shut down, arguably, the best collection of talent in the WNBA — especially with the formidable frontcourt duo of Candace Parker and Nneka Ogwumike.
Vandersloot credited her team’s tough defensive play for shutting down the two offensive queens.
“I think they scored...eight points or something in the third quarter, and that’s just unheard of for a team that skilled and with that many offensive threats,” she said. “That’s going to be the key, is offense has kind of been our thing all season and this game was a little bit low-scoring for us, but we got it done on the defensive end.”
“We were setting up our offense with 21, 19 seconds left on the shot clock [in the first half] as opposed to in the second half, we walked the ball up the court and we let their zone affect us and that shouldn’t be the case,” Parker said. “Whether you’re man or zone we still should push the ball up to give ourselves an opportunity .
“We took a lot of end of the shot clock three second shots [in the second half] and that’s not what we do.”
Momentum in sports is a tricky thing, and if anything, this series has gotten a little bit more interesting, as Chicago now knows they can beat this team — even without Delle Donne.
“The first thing you think about without E is that you’re missing 22 points and they handled that,” she said. “I [feel] good about the offense because they trust each other and they’re very aggressive but I think it’s more about what we need to do to get wins, and that’s the ball game right here.”
And it looks like Agler is looking to disrupt the Sky’s chemistry and rhythm, while capatalizing on some good ole bulletin board material heading into Game 4.
“Chicago said, we saw their best today—well we’re just going to have to get back to our best,” Agler said.