The Chicago Sky started off the second part of the 2021 WNBA season by defeating a Breanna Stewart-less and Sue Bird-less Seattle Storm team 87-85 in overtime on Aug. 15. It was a hard-fought and exciting win, but didn’t come against the defending WNBA and 2021 Commissioner’s Cup champs at full strength.
Well, on Friday night at Angel of the Winds Arena in Everett, Wash., the Sky gave their mediocre season a real jolt by defeating a Storm team that received the services of Stewart, Bird and their third superstar, Jewell Loyd. Kahleah Copper, who led Chicago with four points in OT and 19 overall on Aug. 15, dropped 26 on Friday (21 in the second half) and made several key baskets late in a tight fourth quarter as the Sky came back from down as many as nine in the game and down five with with 7:37 to play to win 73-69.
The game winded down when Courtney Vandersloot made a free throw that made it a two-possession game for good with 20 seconds remaining. After that the Storm turned the ball over and didn't foul. But it was Copper’s six points before that that truly powered the victory.
Copper made a reverse layup that made it 68-65 Chicago with 2:27 to play, another difficult layup that made it 70-67 with 57 seconds to go and then two free throws that made it 72-67 with 34 ticks remaining.
Copper was phenomenal and the player of the game, but the turning point that led to Chicago’s final push was a Vandersloot steal turned 3-pointer from Allie Quigley in transition that made the score 66-65 Sky with 2:56 to play. The steal was a perfectly timed downward swipe as Loyd was about to go up for layup that she probably would have made to make it 67-63 Seattle. On the other end, Quigley took one dribble after catching the pass from her wife and then quickly got of a shot as Bird was closing out on her.
Chicago led by five early, but Seattle led from midway through the first to midway through the fourth. Copper tied the game on a triple at the 4:41 mark of the final frame.
Don’t forget that the Sky were second in Swish Appeal’s preseason power rankings. Yes, second. Ahead of the Lynx, a seemingly stacked Mystics team that was supposed to have Elena Delle Donne and Tina Charles, the Storm and the Mercury. They were also ahead of a Sun team that was not expected to be as good as they are. Who would have thought that on Aug. 28 we’d be calling a Sky win over the Storm a pretty big upset.
The Sky were ranked that high in our first power rankings because Candace Parker and Vandersloot are two of the Top 10 players in the WNBA when at their best. Parker is an all-around talent, who came in first on our monster stat list out of ALL active players, and Vandersloot is the best in WNBA history at putting up a high volume of assists. Add in a player like Diamond DeShields with superstar potential, Copper, who showed a ton of improvement in the wubble, and Allie Quigley, one of the best 3-point shooters in the game, and you see why Parker wanted to join forces with her hometown team. It was beacuse they had a shot at winning the title this year.
Things got ugly for the Sky when Parker was out with an ankle injury early in the season and then they got as hot as any team has been this season for a stretch. But since that hot streak ended, they just hadn’t been playing up to their potential until Friday night, sitting at 12-12 entering the contest.
Of course, Friday night wasn’t necessarily pretty for either side. Chicago scored just 73 points on 42 percent shooting and turned the ball over 19 times, but their defense was solid and they got the win. And boy were they impressive during that final stretch against a great team — a team many feel is still the frontrunner despite being in third place and two games back of the first-place Sun. Remember, the Storm’s record would be 20-7 instead of 18-9 if they hadn't lost two close ones without Stewart and Bird right after the Olympic break.
The Sky will look to use Friday night’s win as a springboard to bigger and better things. They face the Storm again on Sunday and then face the Phoenix Mercury and Las Vegas Aces twice in their next three games after that. So they will be put to the test for sure.
“We know we didn't play our best,” Copper said. “We turned it over in the first half, we struggled. But we just know we have so much better basketball to play. We know we can be so much better. So for us to win this ugly one is really good for our confidence moving forward.”
Azurá Stevens was the second-best player on the floor for the Sky with 11 points and 10 rebounds. Stefanie Dolson was second in scoring with 12 points to go along with her six boards. Vandersloot finished with seven points, eight assists and two steals and Parker chipped in with eight points, six helpers and two steals.
Stewart notched 18 points, eight rebounds, three assists and three steals in defeat.
Phoenix Mercury (15-10) over New York Liberty (11-16), 80-64
Don’t look now, but the Mercury have won six games in a row. Skylar Diggins-Smith led the way with 27 points to go along with seven assists and four steals as Phoenix went on a 21-7 run from 4:11 in the third to 7:48 in the fourth to regain control and grab a 13-point lead.
The Mercury went on to lead by as much as 18 in the fourth. Their biggest lead in the game was 19, which came in the second quarter.
Diana Taurasi added 19 points, seven rebounds and three assists to the winning cause, Kia Vaughn had nine points and 11 boards and Brianna Turner was good for 12 points and seven boards. Phoenix won without MVP candidate Brittney Griner, who suffered an ankle injury on Wednesday.
“Everybody came together and we were saying how we needed to do a little more,” Diggins-Smith said of playing without Griner. “It was a total team effort tonight. We got contributions from everybody on both sides of the basketball. And luckily we were able just to sustain it and come out with a dub.”
Sabrina Ionescu nearly recorded a WNBA record-tying second triple-double with 12 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists in defeat. Sheryl Swoopes remains the only player with two triple-doubles, but Ionescu is 23 years old so she has a long way to go. Natasha Howard added 18 points, seven rebounds and three helpers for the Liberty, who attempted 18 less free throws than the Mercury.