Rosemont, IL — Tonight the Chicago Sky (3-10) was seeking to do two things they had yet to accomplish all season: string together two consecutive victories and get their first win at home.
But standing in their way was a Washington Mystics team (8-5) with an equally ferocious, “backs against the wall” mentality. Having lost three out of their last four games entering tonight’s contest, the Mystics turned out to be in no mood to be the bearer of good fortune for a struggling Sky squad.
With head coach Mike Thibault back on the bench after attending his father’s funeral over the weekend, Chicago found themselves on the receiving end of an unstoppable trio in Elena Delle Donne, Kristi Toliver, and Tayler Hill. A balanced scoring attack for Washington gouged the Sky defense en route to a 97-63 Mystics victory.
Desperate to avenge two prior losses to the Mystics this year, Chicago came out with a ferocious edge. Leading the charge for the Sky was Allie Quigley, whose back-to-back baskets gave the Sky an early 14-9 lead.
However, Toliver responded in very WNBA Champion-like fashion: with utmost composure and without hesitation.
“I knew I wanted to come in and be aggressive today and kind of set the tone. It was a good start. It was a good start as a team.” Toliver stated on her shooting performance.
Toliver’s 13 first quarter points off of a perfect 5-of-5 shooting, including three 3-pointers, and Ivory Latta’s buzzer-beater spurred Washington to lead 30-27 after the first quarter.
The Mystics shut the door on whatever hope Chicago had created for themselves, putting up 16 unanswered points to begin the second period. With Delle Donne’s demand for attention from the Sky’s defense, Toliver shot the ball with impunity from the perimeter, putting up 16 first half points.
Delle Donne made it clear that Washington’s 61-point first half effort was more a testament to their ability to turn defense into offense.
“When we’re playing great defense, we get out into transition and we can really find the right people and find the open spot.”
To put the anemic Chicago offense into perspective, they failed to score a single point until Stefanie Dolson’s basket with 5:43 left in the second quarter. Dolson cited the second period as the source of the Sky collapse.
“I think in that second quarter, the shots weren't falling and then we weren't getting back on defense and I think that's where it kind of hit us.”
Thanks to 12 first half Sky turnovers, Washington took a commanding 61-34 halftime lead.
In the third quarter, the Sky were granted no reprieve, trailing by as many as 30 points. Just as Chicago fans were bleakly staring into the face of another loss at home, Courtney Vandersloot’s playmaking and a timely Quigley three-pointer with 44 seconds remaining gave Chicago renewed hope despite trailing 75-53 entering the fourth period.
Early in the final frame, Chicago’s potential momentum shift was emphatically stifled by Washington’s well-rounded offensive attack and ferocity on the glass. The disgust was evident on the faces of Sky players as they turned the ball over 21 times and handed the Mystics a resounding 34-point victory.
“You can see that the areas that we need improvement on are just basketball fundamental areas. It's not like we have to change and have some grandiose new defensive strategy…Our man defensive principles are solid, we just need better execution,” said Head Coach Amber Stocks after the game.
Very encouraging for the Mystics was the fact that their #1 option in Delle Donne didn’t even have to find a higher gear due to the talented pieces they’ve added around her. She shifted beautifully between facilitator, scorer, and merciless rim protector, which opened the door for Toliver and Hill to gash the Sky for 16 and 17 points, respectively.
Awe at Delle Donne’s impressive stat line of 11 points, four assists, seven rebounds, three blocks, and three steals was undoubtedly met with bitterness by Chicago fans as they were left wondering how this 3-10 team would be faring had she stayed in a Sky uniform.
Chicago has a drama-laden matchup up next as they’ll face the Indiana Fever (6-7) and Pokey Chatman, who they fired at the conclusion of last season, at home on Wednesday at 12:30 PM ET. Washington heads home to face the Seattle Storm on Tuesday at 12 PM ET.