The Chicago Sky were backed into a corner and fought their way back, but still ended up coming up short to the Washington Mystics in their home opener, 71-69.
With so many casting doubts on the Sky’s ability to remain a viable presence in the league due to their drastic roster changes, they know they have their work cut out for them. But with two opening season victories, there is much they can hang their hat on, even with this first defeat.
The first quarter went by relatively quickly as the teams didn’t take a break after playing nearly seven full minutes. The Sky started out solidly as their offense was largely relegated to inside points. They shot solidly from mid-range and their efficient ball-handling made space inside for some additional baskets.
They managed to hold onto the lead for much of the quarter without making a single 3-pointer.
Defensively, they were by and large scrappy, but towards the end, they started to sag and left room for the Mystics to hit from beyond the arc on a few occasions. Chicago also made some bad passes down the stretch which led to turnovers and Washington tying the game at 18.
In the second quarter, the momentum quickly shifted in favor of the Mystics. They went on a 20-7 run from the 8:34 mark to the 2:27 mark. Chicago was still remaining in contention with their pressure-packed defense, but they were having trouble with converting on shots that were objectively good attempts.
As the first half waned, the pace started to pick up for Chicago and they were able to cut the lead down to as many as three. A major catalyst for them was guard Marina Mabrey, who was able to muster up points both in the paint and beyond the perimeter.
The Sky were still playing solidly on defense by stifling the Mystics’ backcourt, thus keeping the deficit from going into double digits. The Mystics led 40-34 at the half.
The Sky shot 42 percent from the field and 29 percent from 3-point range in the first half. The Mystics shot 36 percent from both.
Mabrey’s 10-point first half performance, which included a clutch three from the head of the key and a hard drive to the basket resulting in an extra point, helped provide a spark to a Sky offense that was beginning to show signs that they were starting to lag.
The Mystics took over during the majority of the third quarter with Elena Delle Donne contributing 10 out of the team’s 20 points. Trailing by as many as 16 points, the Sky were in a bind, but they started to claw their way back.
Mabrey continued to assert her dominance. Then, an amazing sequence occurred when Dana Evans hit a huge 3-pointer before Rebekah Garnder stole the inbound pass and laid it up to cut the game back to single digits at 53-45 with 3:28 left.
Eventually, the Sky went on a 16-0 run to cut the lead down to four at 53-49. The culminating point was when Kahleah Copper drove to the hole to lay it up and tie the game at 53, which got the crowd ecstatic.
Just when it seemed like it was an entirely new game, both Amanda Zahui B. and Kristi Toliver hit two big threes in the final moments of the quarter that swung the momentum back to the Mystics, who would lead 60-53 going into the fourth.
The Sky had regained their mojo and that carried over into the fourth.
Courtney Williams tied the game at 60 with a big 3-pointer at 6:33 left. The Sky were within reach of a tremendous comeback.
However, sloppy passes in transition offense led to additional turnovers, plus they were taking good shots that wouldn’t go in. Even another Williams 3-pointer to tie the game in the remaining minutes wasn’t enough to offset the dominant shooting by Delle Donne.
With 25.3 seconds left, she hit from just inside the 3-point line to put Washington up 68-66 and end with a game-high 25 points.
The Sky lost the game, but they didn’t give in. It was their valiant defensive effort, newfound confidence from the field, and ability to stay together that kept them in the game.
Even 24 points allowed off of 23 turnovers didn’t deter them from going out and playing their game.
“We never thought we were out of the game,” said Copper. “We had this togetherness and this pride that we were gonna get back into the game.”
Mabrey, who finished with a team-high 19 points, fed off the energy brought on by Copper, Williams, and Evans, which helped her to be effective.
“All of our guards bring that energy and that competitiveness no matter who’s coming in the game,” she said. “We compliment each other well.”
During the final stretch, Gardner suffered a foot injury and had to be taken out of the game. There was no update on her condition postgame.
The Sky (2-1) will be hitting the road to take on the Dallas Wings (2-0) on Sunday at 6 p.m. ET. They will be back at home on Tuesday to take on the Atlanta Dream (1-1) at 7 p.m. ET.