Candace Parker was a last-minute addition to the Chicago Sky’s injury list on Wednesday night after she sustained what head coach James Wade called a minor ankle twist when she came down wrong in shootaround.
“We were trying to test it before the game just to see if she could go on it,” Wade said. “And we just ended up making a decision to prioritize her health. It’s the second game of the season. She’ll be fine though.”
A second-year player known for her phenomenal run with the Oregon Ducks, Ruthy Hebard started in Parker’s place for her seventh career start in 24 games and notched her second career double-double with 18 points and 10 rebounds in an 85-77 win for the Sky over the Atlanta Dream at Gateway Center Arena in College Park, Ga.
Hebard added three assists and three blocks as Chicago (2-0) went up 23 points and then fended off a Dream comeback after giving up an 18-point lead to the same squad in a loss last year.
While the near collapse was disappointing, Wade was happy about the way Hebard stepped up.
“The sky is the ceiling for her,” he said. “She had a great game. We were so happy when she got off the plane from Turkey, and now she’s here with us, and she’s doing good things.”
“James does a good job of keeping us always ready,” Hebard said. “You never know how much you're gonna play, if you’re gonna start or not. So I try to come into every game expecting to play 30 minutes or three minutes, whatever happens, just to be ready for it when I get my chance.
I feel a lot more confident than last season, knowing the plays, knowing the players. So it’s just fun to be able to go out and contribute to such a great team.”
Kahleah Copper led the Sky with 23 points, while Astou Ndour-Fall added 15 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks. After a quiet opening day, Courtney Vandersloot had 12 points, eight assists and six rebounds. Diamond DeShields rounded out the team’s double-figure scorers with 11 points and dished out five assists for the second-straight game.
Atlanta (0-2) was down 20 at the break but closed the third on a 7-0 run that featured passionate defense and a triple and five points from Courtney Williams (game-high 24 points, eight rebounds, three steals). The run made it a 10-point game entering the fourth.
Then, with 5:18 to play, Dream star Tiffany Hayes scored her first basket of the game on a deep 3-pointer that cut Atlanta’s deficit to five. Crystal Bradford (12 points, four steals) followed with a banked-in three about a minute later and a Monique Billings free throw with 3:51 left cut it to one. However, that’s as close as the Dream got since the Sky went up 3-0 just 53 seconds into the contest.
Two Hayes free throws cut it to two with 2:12 to go, but Ndour-Fall answered with a 3-point play and a jumper that pushed the Chicago lead back to seven with 1:28 to play. The Sky led by at least five the rest of the way and the Dream had to resort to fouling, which proved to be unsuccessful.
When asked if he thought not blowing the lead like they did last season was a sign of maturation, Wade said he thought it showed maturation and a good memory. The Sky just did not want to let that happen again because they remembered what it felt like and they were able to remain one of four undefeated teams in the league without the services of their best player.
The 18-point comeback last year is tied for the largest comeback in Dream history.
Chennedy Carter scored 21 points and notched six helpers in defeat.
Connecticut Sun (3-0) over Indiana Fever (0-3), 88-67
Jonquel Jones recorded 17 points, 11 rebounds and five assists to lead the Sun in this blowout. But how about Natisha Hiedeman scoring a game-high 19 points with a game-high six assists? It was her first game of the season coming off the bench, which she did because Jasmine Thomas was back in the starting lineup. But her impact was even greater than it was in Connecticut’s first two games. The second-round pick from 2019 is averaging 15 points, 3.3 assists and 2.7 steals through three games after averaging 6.1 points per game last year.
Topping her career-best, Swaggy hits 19 points!— Connecticut Sun (@ConnecticutSun) May 20, 2021
Brionna Jones added 16 points to the winning cause and DeWanna Bonner notched 13 points and seven rebounds.
Connecticut guard Briann January suffered a lower leg injury and did not return to the game.
Danielle Robinson scored 12 points to lead the Fever, who led 9-2 and 13-5 before letting the game slip away.