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Defensive strategies remain a question mark for Chicago

Chicago wins big over San Antonio for its fourth-straight victory, and yet need to continue improving on defense before the playoffs to ensure a first-round bye.

WNBA: Finals-Chicago Sky at Phoenix Mercury Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

ROSEMONT, IL -- Over the past few seasons, Chicago has been an offensive juggernaut. They can score in bunches and can shoot themselves in or out of any game. Yet on defense, they haven’t found that next level that propels a team into title contention.

While Chicago defeated the San Antonio Stars 97-73 tonight, their defense still has adjustments to make before the playoffs in order to secure a top-4 seed and avoid playing in the first-round single elimination games new to this year’s playoffs.

“It was a tale of two halves defensively for us,” head coach Pokey Chatman said. “We weren’t dictating as much in the first half, and allowed them to score 47 points. After halftime players became more aggressive and [San Antonio] scored just 26 points in the second half.”

Last season, the Sky finished with one of the best records in the WNBA because of their elite offense.

This season, Chicago is currently hovering around the .500-mark mainly because of their lapses on defense.

The Sky have several pieces, which on paper, should equate to a dominant defensive unit, however, they haven’t been able to capitalize on the sum of their parts.

Before building a 20-point lead late in the fourth quarter, the Stars were able to keep pace with the Sky by attacking the paint.

San Antonio guards Monique Currie, and Moriah Jefferson were each able to infiltrate Chicago defense.

Chatman’s squad led San Antonio by four at halftime but allowed the Stars to shoot 60% from the field.

Currie and Jefferson combined for 38 points tonight but went quite after Chatman and the Sky incorporated a few adjustments on the defensive end.

“We wanted to pressure [Jefferson] and get the ball out of her hands. We also made an adjustment with our post players, in terms with how we were guarding [Currie and Jefferson] on a couple of sets,” Chatman said on stopping the Stars backcourt in the second half.

When Chatman’s squad jumps out to a big lead, they have the tendency to let their opponents back in the game – as was the case on Friday night versus the Seattle Storm.

Most night’s superstar Elena Delle Donne is an above average defender. Likewise, for Tamera Young who is the newest addition to the starting lineup. The other starters, though, lack defensive prowess.

Rookie center Imani Boyette – who stands at 6-foot-7 -- is the player most likely to provide Chicago with the elite defense it needs. It just may not be this season.

During the first two minutes of the game, Boyette scored four points, had one block shot and grabbed an offensive rebound. She’s poised to become the Sky’s defensive anchor with her length and shot-blocking ability.

“[Tonight] I was working on my verticality,” Boyette said. “My team is really confident in me, and I just make sure that I can patrol the paint.”

The former Texas Longhorn finished the game with 10 points, seven rebounds, and four block shots. She’s currently averaging 6.5 points per game and 5.9 rebounds per game this season.

For the Sky to find success in the playoffs, they’ll need Boyette to continue learning and becoming more comfortable anchoring a defense that needs to improve for its team to reach new heights.

Chicago has won four straight games coming out of the Olympic break. Their offense is showing no signs of slowing down, but it’s their defense that will be key to them securing a first-round bye.

Defense wins championships. The Sky can rely on its superstar to score points but will need to grow as a team defensively to reach its ultimate goal.