For much of 2022, the Chicago Sky have had a habit of making things close. Fourteen of their 36 regular-season games were decided by five points or fewer (Chicago went 9-5 in those games) and they’ve tacked on two more nail-biters in their ongoing semifinals series against the Connecticut Sun, losing Game 1 of the series 68-63 and winning Game 3 76-72.
Tuesday’s Game 4, however, was not nearly as competitive, and the Sky found themselves in a position they’ve rarely been put in: on the wrong side of a blowout. Facing playoff elimination on their home court, the Sun blitzed the Sky from the opening tip, leading by as many as 27 points in a crucial 104-81 victory.
The Sky haven’t had many games like this since winning it all in 2021. Even in defeat, Chicago has been tenacious; the Sky’s average margin of defeat in their 13 losses this season has been seven points, according to Across the Timeline. The team’s fourth-quarter magic (8.9 points per 100 possessions better than its opponents — best in the WNBA) has turned several would-be blowout losses into either improbable victories or close, “moral” defeats.
There was no such outcome on Tuesday. While the Sky’s side of the box score doesn’t seem downright atrocious — 47.6 percent shooting, six players in double-digit scoring, 15 turnovers to Connecticut’s 14 — they were dominated on the boards by the physical and ferocious Sun, allowing 39 rebounds to just 23 of their own.
Combine the significant rebounding margin with a WNBA playoff-record 66 points in the paint and you get a result that’s firmly in favor of one team — and that team wasn’t Chicago.
The Sky will now return home for a winner-take-all Game 5 with a trip to the WNBA Finals on the line — a situation Chicago head coach James Wade is disappointed his team finds itself in.
“The game is played in between the lines. It really doesn’t matter where we play at,” Wade told reporters after Game 4. “It’s always more comfortable for us to play at home, but we can’t lean on that as a comfort. We have to come out and play our brand of basketball no matter where we play.”
That brand of basketball — characterized by crisp ball movement, unselfish shot distribution and aggressive ball screen coverages on defense — was at its best the last time the two teams met in Chicago in Game 2, an 85-77 Sky victory. It was also the last time we saw Chicago’s starting frontcourt of Candace Parker (22 points, 8-of-13 shooting, four rebounds, four assists, three blocks) and Emma Meesseman (14 points, 6-of-8 shooting, seven rebounds, three assists, two steals) firing on all cylinders. While it’s unlikely that Chicago’s frontcourt can match Connecticut’s in terms of pure size and physicality, Parker and Meesseman are capable of more than offsetting that with their playmaking abilities.
For that playmaking to reach its full potential, the Sky will also need more consistent offense from their perimeter players. Wings Kahleah Copper and Rebekah Gardner — two elite athletes who are among the league’s top play finishers — have been uncharacteristically inconsistent during this series, while sharpshooter Allie Quigley has seen her 3-point shot wax and wane. Chicago’s versatility gives it plenty of offensive options, but they all need to get back onto the same page if they’re going to get a chance to defend their title in the WNBA Finals.