Rosemont, IL — Sometimes what's written on the paper doesn't always tell the real story. When the sneakers hit the hardwood, that paper is crumbled up and thrown in the trash.
On paper, the Chicago Sky breezed to an easy 97-73 victory over the last ranked, severely undermanned San Antonio Stars, which hammered the final nail in their coffin and officially knocked them out of the playoffs. Exactly what would have been expected looking at the two team’s records.
But the reality is, the whole game wasn't easy for the Sky, and despite winning the last four games after the Olympic break, those wins didn't come easy either.
In the close race to finish out the season, ensuring a bye-week to start the playoffs, Chicago needs to keep the pedal to the medal, as they say. The Sky have developed a habit of playing to the level of the competition, leading to 15 games this season being decided by six points or fewer, the most in the WNBA. Eleven of those games came down to the final minute.
Tonight could have easily been the same story.
The Sky-rocketed out to a 7-0 lead, shutting down San Antonio on their first two possessions with a block then a steal. However, the Stars began to emerge and the points trickled in. Down to just nine healthy players, San Antonio may be down and out of the playoffs, but they still had fire and fight.
Rookie Moriah Jefferson dazzled Chicago, putting 10 points up in the first quarter to keep her team within striking distance, as the Sky began to relax a little too much, again.
With just a four-point lead starting the second quarter, Chicago settled for trading baskets. They became complacent, and the hustle on defense didn't exist. The Stars noticed and took advantage in the paint to finish the half shooting 60 percent, courteously of the Sky's tendency to loosen the reins.
Even though San Antonio has the worst record in the league, they continued to fight and play with dignity, and kept the game close heading into intermission. After a half of basketball, Chicago’s head coach Pokey Chatman knew she needed to make some changes in order to win this game.
“I think it was a tale of two halves defensively for us. We weren’t dictating as much in the first half and allowed them to score 47 points,” said Chatman. “We made some adjustments at halftime. Players became a lot more aggressive, and we gave up 26 in the second half.”
Adjustments withstanding, it still took most of the third quarter for the Sky to really prove their dominance, though. In the closing minutes of the quarter, as Chicago pulled to an eight-point lead, they had a decision to make: they crank it up another notch and expose the Stars, or they could continue to rest up on defense and make their last quarter a lot harder than it needed to be.
Elena Delle Donne made that decision for her team.
A long ball? No problem.
A swoop in and drive to the rim? She'll take it.
She was heating up, and her team knew it.
Her teammates began to contribute to her fire, fueling her every chance they got, dishing her the ball at every opportunity — and doing it in style. It all culminated when Imani Boyette magically bounced the ball through traffic for Delle Donne to get the layup and the foul.
“One of my roles is being a scorer for this team, so I’m just trying to always be on attack,” said Delle Donne. “People like Imani are setting great screens, they’re clogging the paint so there can’t be too much help, so [I’m] attacking the basket.”
The Sky were finally playing up to their true potential, and for Delle Donne, that level is as high as a Chicago skyscraper. With seven minutes left, the lead had risen to 15 and the Sky's defense tightened. San Antonio’s shooting dropped to 40 percent and the tired, diluted team from the Lone Star State struggled to keep up.
Thanks to a solid final quarter, Chicago cruised to the 97-73 win. Delle Donne set the court alight with 35 points, six rebounds and two steals. Boyette shot 80 percent for 10 points, seven rebounds and four blocks. Tamera Young and Cappie Pondexter added 10 points each, too.
San Antonio now have no hope of reaching the playoffs, but rookie Jefferson continued to shine as she scored 18 points behind veteran forward Monique Currie's 20 points.
For the Sky, a win is a win, but at this time in the season, can they continue to leave themselves with all that extra work to close out a game?
Chicago now heads out on a three-game road trip starting Friday against the Indiana Fever. To make sure they clinch that fourth seed in the playoffs and home court advantage, they need to play their way -- and not get complacent.