The two of the best teams in the East converged in the Windy City Sunday as the Chicago Sky took on the Washington Mystics.
The Sky were coming in winning four out of their last five games with their full roster intact. Finals MVP Kahleah Copper had been a major factor since returning from playing overseas. Her most recent performance in their win against the Atlanta Dream (21 points and eight rebounds) reinforced how vital she is to the team.
With some pointing towards the inconsistency in play from the defending champs, Coach James Wade said he is confident that his team has found a groove even as they are still trying to incorporate everybody.
The Mystics came in with a 7-4 record, but without their best player Elena Delle Donne. Even with Natasha Cloud, Ariel Atkins, and Myisha Hines-Allen leading the charge, the team had lost three out of their last five including a nine-point loss to the Sky on May 22.
All signs pointed towards Chicago coming out on top but that was predicated on whether they could shoot well, make good decisions in transition, move the ball well and lessen turnovers.
At the start, the Sky’s offensive motion was as dynamic as expected. They were playing at a pace that wasn’t too fast or slow. They were making good shots, sharing the ball well, and were solid on the boards at both ends of the floor.
The Mystics are still a good team and they weren’t to be counted out so quickly. They took advantage of the Sky defense, which has a tendency to leave a player open for the shot. At the 3:17 minute mark of the first, the Sky led 16-14.
What was becoming evident was that the Sky’s bench was becoming as effective as their starters. The team of Rebekah Gardner, Dana Evans and Azura Stevens was able to clearly overmatch Washington, specifically with their versatility. For example, Stevens could certainly work her magic in the paint, but could also hit from the outside when necessary.
As the clock ticked down to the end of the first quarter, the Sky were in control of the contest and were playing solidly. They were shooting the ball much better than they did in their last two contests at home, as they were 63 percent from the field and 50 percent from three.
At the end of the quarter, the Sky led 24-18. Candace Parker had seven points and Emma Meesseman had six.
Evans hit a three right off the back to start the second and gave the Sky a nine-point lead at 27-18. But soon after, the Mystics began to retake control of the game as the Sky’s shooting woes came back. They spurred a 9-3 run that included some open looks in the paint allowed by the Sky defense and good shots from the outside.
With exactly seven mintues left in the first half, the game was tied at 27.
At 6:15, Allie Quigly hit a three to put the Sky back up 30-27, temporarily halting the Mystics’ momentum.
However, that was only minor relief as the Sky were again back to what has become a recurring theme: they get in good position to make a basket but the ball simply will not go in. The Mystics were cooling off as well, but the Sky couldn’t take advantage of that even though they were clearly the better team. With 2:45 left, the game was tied at 32.
At 2:11, Copper scored a layup off an epic inbound pass from Courtney Vandersloot to give the Sky back the lead, 34-32. As the quarter came to a close, it was anybody’s game. But even though the Sky’s offense was somewhat lagging, it was offset by their defensive prowess that was holding off the Mystics’ chances.
Going into the locker room, the Sky led 36-34. Courtney Vandersloot had eight points and Parker still had seven.
As the third quarter commenced, it was a great game, but without a sense of who was really in control. The Sky needed to get back into it from the field before it became an ever-growing problem. Through the first four and a half minutes, it looked as if they got it together, courtesy of Copper and Meesseman.
At the 8:06 mark, Meesseman scored off an and-one to put the Sky up 43-37. At 7:48, Copper scored on a drive to the basket to put them up 45-37 and Washington needed a timeout. At the 7:29 mark, Copper scored off a superb feed from Meesseman to give Chicago a 47-37 lead.
At 4:57, Copper demonstrated once again that she was the MVP as she scored on yet another charge to the basket to put them up 51-43 and give her 12 points.
The Sky were clearly in control of the game. They were getting each other in good position to make baskets but none was more spectacular than that of Evans, who hit a spectacular half court buzzer-beater that got the Chicago faithful on their feet and feeling good with a 67-56 lead going into the fourth.
The atmosphere was electric in Wintrust as the fans were anticipating a convincing Sky victory. At 9:25, Parker secured a double-double with a 3-pointer that gave the Sky a 70-58 lead. Even with an occasional turnover or missed opportunity, Chicago’s lead was starting to become insurmountable. A major reason for that was how in sync they were with each other in every aspect of the game. It is as if they were fully transitioned into the flow of the season.
As the game was starting to wrap up, the Mystics did make some inroads to cut it to single digits but it wasn’t nearly enough. With 35.9 seconds left, Gardner stole an inbounds pass and drove to the hole to make a double-digit lead again, 89-79. When all was said and done, the defending champions played as such as they triumphed 91-82.
Parker had 12 points, 13 rebounds, and six assists. Copper had 15 points, six rebounds, and two assists. Meesseman had 13 points, four rebounds, and six assists,
Afterwards, Wade spoke to how the bench played a significant role.
“It was good to see them get some time to actually showcase what they can do and how important they are to what we do.”
Evans, who finished with 12 points, echoed that sentiment, specifically as it pertains to defense.
“We just gotta be a spark. We have a great starting five. Defense is usually our main focus and then letting the offense flow. ... Just to take the pressure off our starting five and let them know that are here to pick them up when they need us to and to be ready at all times.”
The Sky and Mystics will meet again on Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET in Washington, D.C.