This is the matchup that many were hoping for in last year’s WNBA Finals. Then, it was the defending-champion Chicago Sky taking on a perennial contender in the Las Vegas Aces. It never happened, as the Sky went down in the semifinals to the Connecticut Sun. The Aces went on to defeat the Sun and win their first title.
Fast forward one year later and these two teams are facing off in the first round, with Game One between the No. 8 seed Sky and No. 1 seed Aces tipping off in Las Vegas at 10 p.m. ET (ESPN).
The very different journeys of the Sky and Aces
The Sky (18-22) are one of the league’s biggest triumphs, as they were able to overcome tremendous odds to earn a playoff berth. From starting the season with a new roster to trying to blend into a cohesive team to going through periodic losing streaks to injuries to expected contributors to the abrupt departure of Coach James Wade, the Sky were saturated with one obstacle after another.
But led by interim head coach Emre Vatansaver, who has shown tremendous flexibility in how he uses his players, Chicago claimed the final spot in the postseason for a fifth-straight trip to the playoffs.
Meanwhile, the Aces (34-6) did what they were supposed to do all season. They came in to the season with many expecting them to repeat as champions due to a core of versatile talent: A’ja Wilson, Chelsea Gray, Kelsey Plum, Jackie Young, Candace Parker and Kiah Stokes and Chelsea Gray. Parker, however, remains out indefinitely with a foot injury.
What needs to go right for the Sky to upset the Aces
The Aces are a team that the Sky have been able to play competitively against, despite three defeats. The worst defeat Vegas handed Chicago was by 13 points (93-80) on Jun. 11, while the Sky only lost by a margin of seven points (94-87) on Aug. 24.
Sky captain Kahleah Copper, who just signed a two-year extension to stay in Chicago, has been the catalyst for this gritty and gusty group all year. It is that mentality that the team will need to feed off of heading into Game One. The two-time All-Star, who averaged 18.7 points, 4.4 rebounds and two assists per game during the regular season, is probable to play after battling a toe problem that caused her to miss the Sky’s win against the Sun last Sunday.
Recently named Eastern Conference Player of the Week after she earned her second career triple-double with 16 points, 13 assists and 16 rebounds against Connecticut, Courtney Williams’ playmaking skills will be crucial in facilitating Chicago’s motion offense against Vegas’ league-best defense, which is led by the most recent Western Conference Player of the Week—A’ja Wilson—and finished the regular season with a defensive rating of 97.7. However, C. Williams running the finesse pick and roll with Elizabeth Williams could have Vegas on their heels.
BIG Court not the little ♀️@CourtMWilliams averaged a near triple-double this week, dropping 17.7 PPG, 9.0 RPG, & 9.3 APG to earn Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors#MoreThanGame pic.twitter.com/myhenwkuSW— WNBA (@WNBA) September 12, 2023
As for E. Williams, Chicago would be wise to look to her inside, as she has performed well against Vegas. In all three games, she scored in double figures and was solid on the boards, totaling 41 points and 17 rebounds.
The Sky offense certainly will need the sharp shooting of Marina Mabrey and Alanna Smith. Because Smith is questionable with an ankle injury, Morgan Bertsch may fill this role. Chicago also will need major contributions from a bench that has been able to come through lately. Both squads have had injuries dramatically limit the scope of their bench production, meaning a big game from the Sky’s reserves could give them a crucial edge. Dana Evans providing offensive playmaking, Robyn Park hitting shots from downtown, Ruthy Hebard running the floor to score when needed and Sika Koné crashing the boards would help Chicago immensely.
Of course, the odds are overwhelmingly against Chicago. But if they have proven anything all year long, it is that they wear that underdog status with pride and are up for the challenge. When it comes to the playoffs, it is 0-0 and anything is possible.
No. 8 seed Chicago Sky (0-0) vs. No. 1 seed Las Vegas Aces (0-0)
When: Wednesday, Sep. 13 at 10 p.m. ET
Where: T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, NV
How to watch: ESPN
Sky injury report: Kahleah Copper (probable/available; toe), Alanna Smith (questionable; ankle), Rebekah Gardner (out; knee), Isabelle Harrison (out; knee)
Aces injury report: Candace Parker (out indefinitely; foot), Riquna Williams (out; not with team)