The Chicago Sky are rockin’ and rollin’ their way back to the promised land. As they entered their building to take on the Dallas Wings, they were already locked in to make their run at a second consecutive WNBA title. They clinched a certain playoff spot in their recent 78-74 victory over the Seattle Storm. Speaking of victories, they entered this contest with five straight, maintaining the best record in the league.
The Sky’s offensive has always been vigorous, but during this winning streak they have been tremendously high-powered, averaging 86.5 points. They currently have the second-best overall offense in the league. Among the stacked deck of talent that permeates the roster, it has really been last year’s finals MVP Kahleah Copper, affectionately referred to as “KVP”, who has taken over this season. She is presently averaging 14.8 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 2.1 assists. In addition, she has been solid from the field, shooting 45.7 percent. Her intensity and aggressive style of play at both ends of the floor is very much in keeping with her Philadelphia roots. Philly has produced players with similar sensibilities such as Dawn Staley and Maurice Cheeks.
The Sky’s versatility has stepped up before but with Courtney Vandersloot out on concussion protocol, they once again cemented their deep talent.
In the midst of a hectic schedule, the highly anticipated Commissioner’s Cup against the Las Vegas Aces approaching and the playoffs around the corner, the time has come for the Sky to make like Beyoncé and continue to run the world.
At the outset, the Sky got off running as usual and their transition offense was working wonders for them. They found every chance they could to push the ball up the court and find the open look when it was there. Their defense was also steller in boxing out their opponents and grabbing the boards, thereby getting back in transition much more easily. It was Emma Meesseman who was on fire in the first minutes of the game as she was scoring from both outside and inside the paint. She also was on the receiving end of an open look from full court by Candace Parker. At 4:42, the Sky led 12-4 and Meesseman had eight points.
As the first quarter wound down, it seemed as if the Sky weren’t going to be stopped. They clearly overmatched the undersized Wings, who were largely struggling to break through the Chicago defense. With 1:30 left, veteran and fan favorite Rebekah Gardner scored on an epic drive to the hole to put the Sky up 22-13. As the seconds ticked, the Wings scored a few baskets here and there but it wasn’t enough to halt the Sky’s swift dynamism. The first quarter essentially flew by with the Sky leading 24-17, shooting 58 percent from the field and 50 percent from beyond the arc.
At the start of the second quarter, Chicago maintained that edge by unleashing one of its other tricks. It was moving the ball around so fast that it would often throw off the Wings defense and leave them scrambling. On defense, the Sky always had somebody there to halt what would have been an open look and an easy two points for the Wings in the paint. At 6:50, Azura Stevens scored on a fast break, resulting in an and one to put the Sky up by double digits at 33-23. Their defense was still holding it down as they pressed the Wings into difficulty.
At 5:51, the Sky led 35-25.
As the quarter wound down, the Wings did start to make some inroads as they scored five consecutive baskets to make it a single digit game. The Sky were starting to slow down in their transition game. At 4:31, Candace Parker scored her ninth point on a fadeaway jumper to temporarily end the Dallas run and make it a 37-30 game. It was becoming clear that the Sky’s defense was too overpowering for the Wings to penetrate no matter the gains they were seemingly making. At 2:55, the Sky led 39-32.
At 2:08, Copper brought it back to a double-digit game with a basket that made it a 43-32 lead.
With exactly two minutes left, the air in Wintrust Arena went out as Parker fell to the floor in a collision in which she probably hurt her back. She took a brief moment to gather herself and, with the help of her teammates, rose to her feet to the applause of the fans. She stuck it out for the remaining moments of the half in keeping with the leader that she is.
The first half concluded with the Sky finishing as they started, fast and up-tempo. At 1:27, Copper scored her eighth point on a 3-pointer that gave the Sky a 46-34 lead. With 30.7 seconds left, Julie Allemand, who filled in for Vandersloot at the point guard position, scored on a hard drive to the hoop to put the Sky up 50-36.
At the end of the first half, the Sky led 50-39 and had shot 56 percent from the field while cooling off from the 3-point line down to 30 percent.
As the third quarter began, the Sky were very much in control of the game and clearly the better team overall. If they continued to shoot well, play pressure defense, get everyone involved, and get back in their transition game, this game was destined to be a complete blowout. But it was not guaranteed. Sloppy plays, fatigue, and shooting woes are always a risk.
In the first four minutes of the quarter, the Wings were looking refreshed and energized as they went on an 11-3 run. At 7:24, Meesseman hit a 3-pointer to put a halt to the run and give herself 13 points. It gave the Sky a 56-48 lead. Unfortunately for Chicago though, the game was starting to shift. The Sky weren’t moving the ball around as they did and the Wings’ defense were closing tightly around the Sky offense. With 5:30 left, Dallas was closing in at 58-54. Furthermore, Chicago was missing shots it would normally make and wasn’t pushing the ball up the floor, not wanting to risk a turnover. Thus, the Sky were repeating a similar pattern that has occurred over the course of the season in which they get on a roll early on and hold a big lead but then start to show signs of fatigue, which causes the game to go down to the wire.
With 4:14 left, the Sky led 60-54.
The Sky were looking out of sorts with the quarter winding down. They hadn’t been down throughout the entirety of the game but were on the verge of possibly relinquishing an easy victory. At 2:30, Copper scored her 16th point on a fast break drive to the basket that made it 65-60. For the remaining minutes, she was really carrying the team on her shoulders as her tenaciousness took over at both ends of the floor.
With 7.6 seconds remaining, Gardner was at the right place at the right time for a dramatic put-back off a missed shot by Stevens. The basket gave her six points and the Sky led 72-65 at the end of the quarter.
The fourth quarter began with the game positioned in a way that most probably didn’t expect considering how well the Sky were playing in the beginning. It was a close game when it shouldn’t have been. The Wings were moving the ball around, setting solid screens and getting open looks in the paint that translated to easy baskets. At 7:43, the Wings made it a one point game at 74-73.
At 6:53 Tyasha Harris drove to the hole and laid it in to give the Wings their first lead of the game at 75-74. But quickly thereafter, Allemand repeated to put the Sky back up at 77-75. It was all neck-and-neck from that point on and any play could change the course of the game for either side.
At 5:58, the Sky led 78-77.
Tensions started to boil, particularly between Parker and Wings center Teaira McCowan as they had a momentary exchange of words. At 4:05, Arike Ogunbowale hit a three to put the Wings up 80-79. Shortly thereafter at 3:40, Allemend answered right back with a three in the corner to make it 82-80 in favor of the Sky. At 3:30, Allemand took matters into her own hands with another epic drive to the hoop that got the crowd on their feet and gave the Sky an 84-80 lead.
It all came down to whether the Sky would be able to make smart plays and play smart defense.
At 1:49, Ogunbowale hit a three to cut it to 84-83. At 1:29, Parker scored her 12th point off a put-back in the paint that made it 86-83. As the seconds ticked down it became a matter of getting to the free throw line as much as possible for those easy two points and rendering the Wings into a position where they had to foul and finally running out the clock.
With 33.1 seconds left, Allemend sank two free throws to conclude things at 89-83.
Parker garnered yet another double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds. She also surpassed Lisa Leslie and Tamika Catchings to reach fourth on the all-time rebounding list. Afterwards, Coach James Wade spoke of her leadership.
“She leads us in great ways,” he said. “I just appreciate coaching her and everything she has brought to our group and how she helps lead. How she dictates action at both ends of the floor is really helpful. The numbers tell a story that is really big, 14 and 10, three assists, three steals, and one block shot. But there are some things the numbers can’t say and her presence on the floor just gives us so much.”
Parker echoed something the beloved Pat Summitt once said to her on the importance of rebounding while recognizing yet another accomplishment to add to her illustrious legacy.
“I always go back to Coach Summit, ‘’ she said. “They always say ‘offense sells tickets, defense wins games, rebounds win championships.’ If we take care of the boards, we are able to get out and run and get in transition. So it is an honor to be on the list.”
The Sky’s win streak was snapped Saturday night against the New York Liberty. They are now 21-7 and will take on the Las Vegas Aces for the Commissioner’s Cup on Tuesday July at 8:30 p.m. ET in Chicago.