Sky lock up No. 8 seed, set to play Las Vegas in playoffs
The Chicago Sky (18-22) finished the season and accomplished the playoff push with their 92-87 win over the Minnesota Lynx on Friday night. This makes a franchise-high 5 straight postseason appearances for the Sky.
The Sky earned the final playoff spot as the No. 8 seed and will open the playoffs on the road against the No. 1 seed Las Vegas Aces.
As a refresher, the WNBA’s postseason is set up as more of a traditional bracket, which was introduced for the first time in 2022. The top eight teams overall make the playoffs and the postseason will consist of three rounds. The first round will be a best-of-three and then will transform into a best-of-five series for the semi-finals and the WNBA Finals.
The higher seed will host the first two games for the first round. The semi-finals and Finals series will stay unchanged with the higher seeds hosting the first two games and a fifth game if needed.
Record-breaking playoff clincher
The Sky entered Friday night’s matchup with a simple path to the postseason: win and you’re in. After a slow start in the opening quarter, the Sky took the lead in the second and never looked back in the 92-87 win.
“We’re a really resilient group,” Copper said. “Defensively, when we’re able to get stops and get out in transition to get those easy buckets, that’s what we have to hang our hats on is being disruptive, getting stops, getting rebounds. If we’re locked in defensively, we’re really good.”
There was an electric nervousness in the air before tip-off inside Wintrust Arena. Players and head coach Emre Vatansever sat in the press room during pregame, their hands and legs constantly moving and itching to just play the game. The nerves affected the team early with some turnovers, foul trouble and starting from behind, 19-16.
Vatansever was yelling from the sideline after any foul in the opening quarter, “No more! No more!” The Sky settled in, thanks to Copper’s 20 points and Marina Mabrey’s 19 points. Dana Evans provided the extra spark off the bench, finishing +13 thanks to her consistent defensive disruption.
“I’m seeing her production offensively off the bench. I don’t know who else is up there with her. She’s a two-way player,” Copper said about Evans. “There’s nobody coming out there, picking up full court and then coming down to run the offense and still coming down and getting a bucket. It’s not that many two-way players in this league. With Dana, at her size and with her heart, there’s nobody doing this.”
Mabrey also set a new single season Sky record with 83 three-point attempts, surpassing Allie Quigley’s 80 that was set in 2019.
Marina Mabrey has broken Allie Quigley's single-season three-point record with this stepback three! 👌 pic.twitter.com/UXVNuGq9sU— Marquee Sky (@SkyMarquee) September 9, 2023
Courtney’s career day vs. Connecticut
Courtney Williams led the way in the final Sky game of the season Sunday, picking up her second career triple-double and second of the season in the Sky’s 102-91 overtime victory over the Connecticut Sun.
Williams finished with 23 points, 16 rebounds and 13 assists while also hitting 3,000 career points against her former team.
“It just shows our resiliency. You don’t get triple-doubles without your teammates,” Williams said after the game. “I think that’s just a testament to this team in how we fight. We took the game to overtime, and obviously we weren’t happy about that. We kept the pressure on, and came out with the W.”
While the game itself was a wash for both teams with the outcome not having any effect on playoff seeding, the Sky still wanted to use this game as a way to carry momentum into the postseason. With 5 players finishing in double-digit scoring with Copper sidelined with a toe injury, the Sky have confidence that they can play against anybody.
“We wanted to come into the game not losing momentum but also keep the rhythm going,” Vatansever said after the game. “We promised to win a certain amount of games in the last 8 games, and we accomplished it.
“Right after the Connecticut game [on Aug. 20th], we didn’t say words. We sat down, and we put the final 8 games on the white board. They were going back and forth, they set the goal, and they accomplished it. It shows the character of this team, and I’m so proud of them.”
Playoff Preview vs. Las Vegas
The Sky have a tall task to open postseason play, having to try and take one away from the defending WNBA Champions Las Vegas Aces to try and force a Game 3 in Chicago.
Las Vegas is the No. 1 team for a reason, and they’ve had the Sky’s number all season, taking the season series 3-0 sweep. The last time these two teams met was Aug. 24 where the Sky hung around until the last 4 minutes of the game in the 94-87 loss.
“We were in the game all the way through, and we got to be on point making those passes,” Vatansever said after the Aug. 24 loss. “I also feel like we ran out of gas a little bit. I was trying to stop the game with timeouts. We fought. We just couldn’t pull it out.”
For the Sky to steal a game away from the Aces, they have to limit their scoring opportunities. In all 6 of the Aces’ losses, they were held well under their league-leading points average of 92.6 a game. Causing disruption defensively on Chelsea Gray will be key in limiting her ability to find open shooters.
Elizabeth Williams will have the tough task of guarding reigning MVP A’ja Wilson inside. The Sky have brought helpside coverage on Wilson to limit the damage she can cause both as a shooter and rebounder. If the Sky can limit her to under 20 points, which is easier said than done, the Sky will have a better opportunity at keeping up with the Aces offensively.
Not only do the Aces have size, but they have speed. Their league-leading pace of play is something the Sky enjoy, but it can start to wear teams out late in the fourth quarter. That’s been where the Sky have lost their battles with Las Vegas is in the final minutes of the fourth quarter. The Sky cannot take their foot off the gas if they want to stretch this to a full 3-game series.
Game 1 is set for Wednesday, Sept. 13 in Las Vegas with a 9 p.m. tip time on ESPN.