It was a matinee matchup in the Windy City between two of the best teams in the WNBA. The defending champion Chicago Sky entered the matchup against the Connecticut Sun riding high on a three-game winning streak. They managed to come back from 28 points down to defeat the top-ranked Las Vegas Aces, conquered the LA Sparks, and triumphed over the Minnesota Lynx on a last-second shot by Courtney Vandersloot.
Speaking of “Sloot” as she is affectionately called, she is on a roll, averaging 19.3 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 5.0 assists in the last three contests. As a result, she was named the WNBA Player of the Week. Even with the uncertain status of Kahleah Copper who has been battling a bad back, the core of the Sky were healthy overall. Shortly before the game, it was announced that Copper was cleared to play and was back in the starting lineup.
With the All-Star break approaching, the test was for the Sky to remain on top and uphold that special status of defending champions.
From the start, the Sky came storming out the gates. They were hitting from downtown and taking it to the hole while also holding the Sun’s equally high caliber offense at bay. Candace Parker was on top of her game as expected. At the 3:13 minute mark, the Sky led 19-12 and she had 11 points, including three from beyond the arc. Copper was showing signs that she was in great standing even with an uncertainty of whether she would even play let alone start.
As the quarter came to a close, the Sky were succeeding in all facets of the game. Their starters and bench were well in sync with each other. Their motion offense was on course and their defense wasn’t too shabby either as they were aggressive on the boards.
The Sky felt even better as Julie Allemand hit a buzzer beater to give them a 32-16 lead.
As the second quarter began, the Sky were in clear control but the question begged of whether or not they would be able to hold onto that advantage. In five out of the last six games, they had double-digit leads early on and then blew them as the game went down to the wire.
However, Chicago, at least for that time, didn’t give in.
At 7:21, Azura Stevens made it a 21-point game with a three to give the Sky a 39-18 lead. It was also during this time that the Sky were shooting a WNBA record 84 percent from the field and 71 percent from the three point line.
As the first half started to wrap up, it was becoming evident that the Sky’s lead was due to their high shooting percentage compared to the Sun who were shooting a dismal 33 percent from the field and 25 percent from three. Parker was all over the court and her teammates were doing their best to play at her pace which was obviously working. She was the commanding presence and her intensity and guidance were evident at both ends of the floor.
Vandersloot and her better half Allie Quigley made some crucial steals down the stretch as the Sky defense was overpowering their opponent at will. At the end of the first half, the Sky were comfortably ahead 55-33. Parker had 16 points, seven rebounds, and three assists. Copper had nine points, three rebounds, and two assists, and Quigley had seven points and three rebounds.
The second half began with everyone expecting Chicago to win comfortably. And yet, there poses that risk where they get out on a run early, hold a sizable lead, and then it falls by the wayside. The third quarter began with the Sky playing at a much more even keel than they did in the beginning. They weren’t showing any evident signs of fatigue that would jeopardize their substantial lead. Whatever inroads the Sun was trying to make fell woefully short as the Chicago defense stifled them in their tracks including two 24-second shot clock violations.
At 5:03, Parker hit two free throws to make it a twenty point game at 63-43. At 4:13, Vandersloot hit a three to make it 66-43 as the Sky were now shooting 71 percent from the field and 73 percent from beyond the arc.
As the quarter wound down, the Sun began to make some cuts into the deficit but it was hard to say whether it would be a game because their shooting woes continued as they were 33 percent from the field and 31 percent from three. However, the Sky were starting to show those avoidable signs of fatigue as they were outscored 22-13 in the period. At the end of the third, the Sky led 68-55.
As the fourth quarter began, all the Sky had to do was continue to make good shots and be overpowering on defense and they had the game in the bag.
At 9:22, Parker did what she does best as she hit her fourth three-pointer to give her 21 points and the Sky a 71-55 lead. At 8:47, fan favorite Rebekah Gardner took an epic drive to the basket off the break that resulted in an and-one and the Sky up 74-57. Then at 8:22, the Sun were issued their shot clock violation.
All signs pointed towards a resounding Sky victory and at 6:50 it was well within their grasp as they led 78-59.
However, the pace of the game began to wind down as did the clock. The Sky were practically coasting their way through the last four minutes and as a result the Sun took advantage of that and cut it to ten at 82-72 with 3:16 left.
At 2:19, the Sky’s worst nightmare came to life as the Sun cut the lead to single digits at 82-73. At 1:53, Gardner woke them back up with a three to make it 85-74.
As the seconds ticked off, the Sky were well on their way to victory but it wasn’t the victory that some would have hoped for. They once again repeated that pattern of giving up insurmountable leads.
Nevertheless, a win is a win.
Afterwards, assistant coach Emre Vatansever, who was filling in for head coach James Wade while he’s out due to health and safety protocols, spoke of the difficulty it can be to maintain a big but still acknowledging that getting the win is all that matters.
“It happens anywhere at any time,” he said. “It is hard to keep that margin going but I’m proud of this team to be able to get the victory and that is the most important part.”
He also spoke highly of Copper’s performance in spite of recent back trouble.
“I think she did an amazing job,” he said. “Yesterday she joined practice and it was looking good. She didn’t start with us, she started with a physical trainer. Then she joined us and it looked OK. She was feeling OK and she is in our starting lineup.”
Allie Quigley, who had 13 points, five rebounds, and four assists, spoke to the state of the team’s health with the All-Star break just around the corner.
“I think the coaches are doing a great job managing us in games and in practice,” she said. “They are focused on our bodies and making sure that we are recovering as best as we can and I think we are all focused on that too.”
The Sky are back home against the Phoenix Mercury on Saturday, July 2 at 12 p.m. CST. The game will be televised on ESPN.