The Chicago Sky feel good when they step on their home court at Wintrust Arena. A place that has hosted some special moments, including the biggest one of them all last October when they pulled off an unconventional and memorable title run.
They are embraced by a vibrant and devoted fan base that is there for them every step of the way and were on hand to witness them close things out at home against the Seattle Storm before the official start of the WNBA Playoffs on August 17. It also happened to be fan appreciation night and Sue Bird’s last game in Chicago as she will officially retire at season’s end.
Coming into this game, the Sky had much to feel good about at exactly the right moment. They have the best record in the league, the most wins they have had in franchise history, their top players are healthy, and they have won five out of their last six games. In their last two victories against the Mystics and Sun, their vigorous offense scored over 90 points and in each contest multiple players such as Candace Parker, Emma Messeman, and Kahleah Copper, obtained double-digit points.
They have never looked better and at this point, it would be an utter shock if Chicago didn’t make it back to the Finals, let alone repeat given how stacked they are with talent from top to bottom.
The storied Storm are lined with veterans have already clinched a playoff spot but have been struggling as of late. Despite a 35-point onslaught by Breanna Stewart, they endured an 89-81 loss against the Western Conference leading Las Vegas Aces. They are also dealing with their head coach Noelle Quinn being absent due to COVID. Even with one of the best defenses in the league that has been able to keep the Sky at bay at times, holding them to 74.5 points per game compared to their 86.2, it was expected to be a struggle as they vie for home court advantage in the playoffs.
The anticipation of another Sky victory was palpable in the Windy City and as our beloved Dorothy once decreed, “There’s no place like home.”
From the start, Chicago tried to come out of the gates storming as normal, but they may not have anticipated that Seattle would halt them in their tracks so effectively. They made good plays on offense and found great openings in the paint off the screen for easy baskets, but their defense wasn’t always able to provide enough coverage at the other end.
With 4:02 left in the first quarter, the Storm led 20-16. The Sky were 64 percent from the field and the Storm was 82 percent.
As the quarter wound down, the Storm were in control of the game as their motion offense was clearly in motion. They moved the ball around and positioned themselves for open looks. Defensively they were taking advantage of the Sky’s loose ball turnovers and were able to crash the boards with relative ease.
At 1:49, Gabby Williams converted on an and-one to give Seattle a commanding 31-19 lead. From there, the Sky were in serious trouble as they couldn’t find a groove at either end. At the conclusion of the first, the Storm led 38-26, while shooting 76 percent from the field compared to Chicago’s 58 percent. Cooper and Vandersloot each had seven points. Williams had 10, Tina Charles had eight and Jewell Lloyd had eight.
The second quarter is normally the time when the Sky either come back or take over. At the outset, Azurá Stevens hit a three to bring it back to single digits at 38-29 as the bench tried to exercise their depth. But they were no match for the Storm, who were storming their way through a 9-3 run. They were hitting from outside and muscling their way inside, sending the Sky defense scrambling. It also didn’t help that Chicago was engaging in a nasty habit of not attacking the glass.
It started to become a period where the Sky had to work for one basket at a time. At 5:12, Allie Quigly hit a crucial 3-pointer to make it a 52-40 game. In order to avoid any risk of turnovers, Chicago got back in transition at a more even keel and looked to set up their offense. However, it was becoming evident that Seattle had exhausted them and were rolling their way through the half. At 2:51, they held a sizable lead at 59-42 and were 68 percent from the field.
At 2:30, Loyd made it a 20-point game with a three. As the seconds ticked, the Sky were making some inroads and were playing with much more intensity. At 32.8 seconds, Courtney Vandersloot went the distance off a steal to make it a 64-54 game. Shortly thereafter, Charles scored on a running jumper and Vandersloot followed up by going 1-of-2 at the free throw line.
The first half concluded with the Storm ahead 66-55.
As the third quarter commenced, it was the opportunity for the Sky to get it together and make something happen. However, the Storm had other plans as they continued to be in total command at both ends of the floor. What was also becoming more obvious was that Chicago’s defense was completely out of sorts, even as their offense was relatively intact when it came to field goal percentage.
At 4:43, Tina Charles made it a 21-point game at 85-64 through sheer domination inside the paint. But as the quarter came to a close, the Sky were starting to play their best basketball all game. They managed to cut a 20-point lead down to 11 with some great ball movement, pressure packed defense, and the resilience of potential Sixth Player of the Year Rebekah Gardner, who made some big contributions on the glass and by taking it to the hole.
The fourth quarter began with a renewed sense of hope for Chicago. The energy of the crowd, and the team for that matter, was revitalized. The possibility of a sensational comeback was in the air. But the Storm had built up a considerable advantage that it was only up from there for them. At 8:43, Stevens brought it back to single digits at 93-84. At 3:53, it was back to a 10-point game with the Storm ahead 101-91. At 3:21, Copper hit two crucial free throws to make it an eight-point game at 101-93.
The anticipation of a comeback was growing by the minute in Winstrust but as the minutes began to wane, it started becoming more clear that it wasn’t enough. At 1:50, Stewart put a dagger into Chicago’s heart with a three that made it 106-97. With 55.5 seconds left, Bird hit a three to make it a 109-97 game and go out on a high note in her last Chicago contest.
In the end, the Storm came away victorious, 111-100. Seattle also set a WNBA record with 37 assists as well as 66 first half points. Vandersloot finished with a game high of 28 points to go along with seven assists and three rebounds. Copper had 17 points, three assists, and four rebounds. Parker had 14 points, five assists, and seven rebounds.
The numbers indicate that the Sky gave it their all, but overall they weren’t quite in game mode from the get-go. Afterwards, coach James Wade echoed the words of his grandfather to describe how the team needs to prove themselves worthy of his trust that they can go out and perform.
“My granddaddy used to say I can show you but I can’t tell you”, he said. “It’s not on me to tell them that, I need them to show me.”
One notable statistic was that the Sky were 15-of-21 from the free throw line compared to the Storm, who were a perfect 12-of-12. Gardner spoke of all the adjustments the team needs to make going into their final two games and that was one of them.
“Those are freebies,” she said. “At the end of practice we work on that and in the playoffs when it really matters, I know we will knock them down.”
The Sky (25-9) hit the road to take on the Aces (24-10) Thursday night at 10 p.m. ET.