With their season on the line, the No. 8 seed Chicago Sky will have to do something they haven't done all season: beat the No. 1 seed Las Vegas Aces.
In Game 1, the Sky were outclassed, losing 87-59 with Vegas never trailing and leading by as many as 32 points. Every key player for the Aces had a productive game, with five players reaching double figures. For Chicago, nothing went right as they failed to produce enough offense to keep up with the Aces' firepower. Kahleah Copper was the only Sky in double figures with 15 points.
Does Chicago have a path to victory?
Although Chicago has not beaten Las Vegas in 2023, they got close on Aug. 24, when they lost by just seven due to a weak fourth-quarter finish. Applying what worked then to this series, Chicago needs a big game from their guards Copper and Marina Mabrey. In Game 1, Mabrey struggled, scoring just seven points on 30 percent shooting; they'll need more from her if they are going to win on the road in an elimination game.
The difficult aspect of this for Chicago is Las Vegas doesn't have a weakness. So even if the Sky guards step up, the Aces can counter with Chelsea Gray, Kelsey Plum and Jackie Young. So, Chicago will need two things to go right to counter that counter. All guards will have to be elite on both sides of the ball and Dana Evans will have to have a big game off the bench.
With Chicago giving only eight players significant minutes in Game 1, those few bench players must be a positive for the team. If Mabrey and Copper have to play intensely on both sides of the ball even to have a chance at winning, those Evans minutes become that much more critical, as the team must maintain a positive point differential when giving the starters a breather. If Evans can play the super-sub role, they'll have a chance on Sunday.
The frontcourt has just as difficult a job as the backcourt, with Elizabeth Williams and Alanna Smith having to defend A'ja Wilson and protect the rim. Rebounding-wise, the Sky did well, winning the battle 43-39. Still, Wilson had an easy 14 points on 50 percent shooting. The Aces' Kiah Stokes also dominated with 14 defensive rebounds, meaning she helped end 14 possessions with no baskets for the Sky. If Chicago is to even the series, they don't have to shut down every player, but they do have to make things harder, forcing Wilson into tougher shots and keeping Stokes off the glass.
Vegas has to just keep making plays
Las Vegas has had no issues with Chicago so far; why change things now? The main focus for the Aces is closing out the series on their home floor. Last season, en route to the championship, Las Vegas was 3-1 in elimination games, indicating they have the experience to get the job done on Sunday afternoon.
To help them do so, Wilson will be key. While I can envision a scenario where the Sky guards go toe to toe with the Aces’ perimeter players, I can't imagine one where Wilson plays to her MVP level and anyone in a Chicago uniform can do anything about it. Wilson is the leader of the team and the best player on the floor. This series is over if she stays aggressive and has a big game. It is what all greats do—close out teams. Wilson's legacy isn't on the line or anything of that nature, but her coming up big for her team would be huge here and could lead to a career highlight moment.
You can't fake desperate and with their backs against the wall, Chicago will come out fast and furious to start the game. If Vegas can weather the storm and gain control of the game by the end of the first half, they'll be in prime position to reach the semifinals for the fifth season in a row and continue defending their WNBA title.
No. 8 Seed Chicago Sky (0-1) vs. No. 1 Seed Las Vegas Aces (1-0)
When: Sunday, Sep. 17 at 3 p.m. ET
Where: Michelob ULTRA Arena in Las Vegas, NV
How to watch: ABC
Sky injury report: Isabelle Harrison (out; knee), Rebekah Gardner (out; foot)
Vegas injury report: Candace Parker (out; foot), Riquna Williams (out; not with team)