In front of new part-owner Dwayne Wade, Mayor Brandon Johnson and their fans, the Chicago Sky played some of the best basketball they have played all season. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to dethrone the defending-champion Las Vegas Aces, arguably the best team in the league.
Despite the 107-95 loss, the Sky managed to stay in contention until the waning minutes of the game.
The Sky’s successes and shortcomings
From the start, Chicago wasted no time and got out running, knowing that they had to to keep up with Vegas’ blistering offensive core four of Aja Wilson, Kelsey Plum, Chelsea Gray and Jackie Young. Noticeably absent was Candace Parker, out indefinitely after undergoing surgery for a stress fracture in her foot. The game was supposed to be her first appearance in her hometown since leaving the Sky.
Early on, Wilson approached double-digit points as she was scoring from inside, in transition and the free throw line. But the defending champs had little-to-no answer for what Kahelah Copper had in store. She carried the team on her shoulders, and then some!
Copper was scoring at will from all spots on the floor, including shooting 57 percent from beyond the arc. Chicago also showed off their overall tangible talent. They shot the ball considerably better than in previous games Their defense was tight knit, as they effectively applied pressure and closed passing lanes.
However, Chicago’s transition defense hurt them. When they turned the ball over, the Sky did not get back down the floor with enough urgency or organization. Their bouts of carelessness with the ball also allowed Vegas to go on runs.
The quarter-by-quarter action
At the end of the first, the Aces led 30-26. Chicago shot 47 percent from the field and 50 percent from the 3-point line. Vegas was 58 percent from the field and 25 percent from 3.
The second quarter was defined by the play of the bench. The Aces’ size and depth gave them the early advantage. Copper was singularly keeping Chicago afloat, doing a bit of everything for a Sky team that needed others to step up. About halfway through the period, they did. 3-pointers by Robyn Parks, Courtney Williams and Alana Smith were followed by C. Williams finding Smith for a quick look in the paint. This succession of scores brought the Sky back within three after they had trailed by 12. They did so without Copper on the floor.
She's got the juice, she's got the juuuiiiiceeeeeee pic.twitter.com/3615TdH9Wb— Chicago Sky (@chicagosky) July 25, 2023
When she returned, Copper resumed her scoring tear. At the end of the first half, she had 22 points.
Throughout the third quarter, Chicago’s pressured-packed defense prevented the Aces from extending their lead to more than 11, thus making an improbable victory still seem possible to Chicago faithful.
Copper’s individual dominance was instrumental, so much so that during the huddle Aces head coach Becky Hammon told her team ABC (Anybody But Copper), indicating that Chicago’s All-Star shouldn’t be left open beyond the arc.
However, the fourth quarter slipped away from Chicago, with the Sky’s upset bid done in by periods of lackadaisical ball movement and discombobulated transition defense that led to too many sloppy fouls.
Reasons for optimism in Chicago
Even while some would fade late, other Sky players did step up in the second half. C. Williams, in particular, was effective as a playmaker. She was racking up the assists and scoring when given the chance, ending up with a double-double of 11 points and 11 assists, including going 3-for-3 from the 3-point line.
C. Williams’ excellence began prior to the All-Star break, and it’s something that interim head coach and general manager Emre Vatansever has taken notice of. “She’s constantly helping us on the court, leading us as a guard,” he said. “She’s not only looking to score, but she is feeding her teammates. So it is great to see her making those passes. It’s amazing and we will be in good hands.”
Elizabeth Williams, who was largely overpowered in the paint by Kiah Stokes and only scored a single basket in the first half, came through after half time and finished with 12 points and four rebounds. Marina Mabrey also was perfect from beyond the arc and did her due diligence as a playmaker with 11 points and six assists.
Off the bench, Dana Evans made an impact with her ability to score at crucial moments, finishing with a solid nine points. The same applies to Parks, who was perfect with two 3-pointers in the first half and a basket in the second to give her eight total points. As a whole, the Sky bench outscored the Aces’ reserves 17-13, even as both teams had reduced depth due to injuries. Overall, the Sky also equaled the Aces with four players scoring in double figures.
But what ultimately did Chicago in was turnovers, and points off turnovers. The Sky coughed up the ball 12 times, compared to just four giveaways by the Aces. This led to 17 points off turnovers for Vegas, with Chicago tallying only five. Accounting for all transition scoring, the Aces bettered the Sky 22-10.
Copper took note of the things they needed to improve on both ends of the floor moving forward. “Definitely on the fastbreak,” she said. “We knew about the leak so we got to send people back. I think offensively we moved the ball, we got good shots and I just want to build on that. Defensively, we could be more disruptive.”
Yet even in defeat, Vatansever and company can keep their heads high.
The Sky (9-14) will be back at home to take on the Seattle Storm (4-19) on Friday, Jul. 28 at 8 p.m. ET. Then, they will play the Phoenix Mercury (6-17) at home on Sunday, Jul. 30 at 4 p.m. ET.