Have the Chicago Sky (2-0) flipped the switch?
We will begin to get a clearer answer on Tuesday night at 8 p.m. ET (ESPN2), when the No. 6 seed Sky head to Connecticut to take on the No. 1 seed Sun (0-0) in Game 1 of the WNBA Semifinals.
An undisputedly talented team, the Sky, also undisputedly, underachieved this season, in part due to injuries but also, in large part, due to self-inflicted inconsistencies.
In their two single-elimination playoff games — Round 1 against the No. 7 seed Dallas Wings and Round 2 against the No. 3 seed Minnesota Lynx — the Sky looked like the championship-caliber team so many expected them to be when they acquired Candace Parker this offseason.
Yet, many did not expect Kahleah Copper to be the driving force for the Sky.
Spider is an appropriate nickname for the first-time All-Star out of Rutgers. Not only does she possess long, quick limbs, but she also uses them to impact the action all over the floor. Her handprints are everywhere. A menace in transition and a constant threat to get to the rim in the half court, Copper also has sprinkled in just enough pull-up shooting to make her an even more dangerous offensive option. On defense, her length, swiftness and speed combine to fluster perimeter opponents.
Against the Wings in Round 1, Copper dropped 23 points on a true shooting percentage of 71 percent. In Round 2, she followed that up with a 16-point, 10-rebound double-double against the Lynx.
Connecticut, however, presents a tough test for the budding star (superstar?) and her squad.
During the regular season, the Sun were not at full strength for the three games against the Sky. Not only was Connecticut without Alyssa Thomas, who missed all but the season’s final two games, but Jonquel Jones also was absent, tearing up EuroBasket with Bosnia and Herzegovina as her team dropped two of three games to Chicago.
As such, the ins and outs of the previous matchups are not predictive of how things might unfold.
Yet, as the Sun’s starting lineup sports four All-Defensive Team members — first-teamers Jonquel Jones and Briann January and second-teamers Brionna Jones and Jasmine Thomas — it might be difficult for Copper to do her thing. With the Joneses patrolling the paint, it could be a struggle to put pressure on the rim. And when one of Jonquel or Bri heads to the bench, the Sun’s irrepressible engine — Alyssa Thomas — will take the court, wreaking havoc with her relentlessness.
Awards season begins with defense.— Connecticut Sun (@ConnecticutSun) September 26, 2021
Congrats Briann, JJ, Jas, and Breezy! pic.twitter.com/PN7NPMm6g5
Thus, the transition game — which has helped Chicago post an offensive rating of 106.9 in its two playoff games — will be even more important for Copper and the Sky, as it is likely it will be a challenge to consistently generate offense in the half court against the league’s top-ranked defense.
For an elite team, the Sun can be rather turnover prone. If rust results in Connecticut spraying the ball all over the court, Chicago should be able to do damage through fast break buckets. However, if Connecticut successfully plays the game on their terms — meaning at a slow, deliberate pace — Chicago might struggle to get out and run.
That Connecticut’s last loss — their unofficial loss to the Seattle Storm in the Commissioner’s Cup championship — came after an extended amount of time off suggests the Sun might not be firing on all cylinders on Tuesday evening. To win the series, the Sky must steal a game at Mohegan Sun Arena, where the Sun were 15-1 this season. Game 1 might be their best opportunity because Connecticut can become unstoppable once they get rolling.
No. 1 seed Connecticut Sun (0-0) vs. No. 6 seed Chicago Sky (2-0)
When: Tuesday, Sept. 28 at 8 p.m. ET
Where: Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, CT
How to watch: ESPN2
Key to the matchup: How will the rotations shake out for both teams? In their final two games of the regular season, the Sun got solid contributions from their bench. Against the Liberty, rookie DiJonai Carrington popped off for 14 points while Natisha Hiedeman dropped 11 points. In their final game against the Dream, Hiedeman netted nine points and sophomore Kaila Charles added 11 points. However, if past precedence holds, head coach Curt Miller will run a tight rotation, with no one beyond Alyssa Thomas, who basically is a sixth starter, receiving significant minutes. Sky head coach James Wade is more inclined to experiment with his rotations. After a strong performance against the Lynx, will Azurá Stevens again see significant playing time? Or, will Wade turn to the sturdier Stef Dolson? Alternatively, could Astou Ndour-Fall earn Wade’s trust? Likewise, will Dana Evans, who had a solid finish to her rookie season, or Lexie Brown, a more reliable defensive presence, receive the backup point guard minutes? How the Sky reserves perform in a contest against a team much less likely to rely on minutes from bench players could swing the outcome.
Sun injury report: none
Sky injury report: none