Minneapolis, MN — For the second time this week, the Chicago Sky have avoided being eliminated from the WNBA Playoffs. In round two of the playoffs, Chicago traveled to face the No. 3 seed Minnesota Lynx. The Sky stunned the home crowd with an 89-76 victory advancing them to the semifinals against the Connecticut Sun.
“It was a missed opportunity,” said Sylvia Fowles after the loss. “Chicago got to the rack, the last two games too. We just didn’t get it done tonight but you have to give Chicago credit tonight. We knew that was one of their strong suits that we knew they were going to come out and try to get in the paint because that’s something they do well. And we didn’t respond to that keeping them out of the paint.”
To open the game, Chicago and Minnesota traded baskets with Candace Parker starting the scoring for her squad and Kayla McBride for Minnesota. With neither team being able to pull ahead by more than a couple of possessions, Chicago closed the first period down by one, 22-23.
In the second period, scoring a basket by either team was slower than the first. There wasn’t a score change until almost two minutes in by the Sky. Finally, the lid was off the hoop, and Minnesota and Chicago went back to trading hoops, but it was the Sky that was more aggressive getting to the paint and to the free-throw line. Aerial Powers was doing her best to keep her team fighting and the crowd engaged with tough drives and monster rebounds. Her teammate — newly named Defensive Player of the Year — Sylvia Fowles established herself down low making things slightly tough for Chicago. It wasn’t enough though to slow them down as the Sky took a 42-38 lead going into intermission.
Kahleah Copper and Courtney Vandersloot were a handful in the third and fourth periods. Copper has been a force having a breakout season for Chicago and it showed again tonight. If she wasn’t knocking down the shot, she was slicing up Minnesota’s defense getting to the rim which her play she attributed to her teammates.
“I think my confidence comes from my teammates,” Copper expressed after the win on where her confidence comes from on the court. “They believe in me, they call plays for me. I think we were just feeding off of each other out there. If I’m out there just bringing the energy, and defending that doing what I know I can do out there.”
In addition, Vandersloot only had four points in the first half but finished the game with 19 as she increased her focus and intensity.
“Just tried to be aggressive. We set a lot of drags in the second half. Tried to open things up, keep up the pace a lot of it was run-outs in transition after steals. I was just trying to do my part.”
It was her play that catapulted the Sky the longer the game went. At one point late in the fourth, Chicago held a 14-point advantage but the Lynx refused to quit as they hit back and pulled within four points, 77-73. But, less than 15 seconds later, Allie Quigley drained a crowd silencing triple to push the Sky back up seven, 80-73. Minnesota and Chicago then went cold from the field until Vandersloot stole the ball again going coast to coast. McBride answered with a three but that ended up being the last made basket in the game for the Lynx.
Azura Stevens played a huge role, especially in the second half for Chicago. Not only did she battle and make the fourth period extremely hard for Fowles, but she also pulled down key rebounds. Minnesota as a team had six offensive rebounds — Stevens had five and those extra possessions for the Sky didn’t go unnoticed by her team.
“It was huge,” Vandersloot stated on the critical play of Stevens. “We expected a lot from Z today and I think the biggest thing was extra possessions getting five offensive rebounds for us, that’s a huge game-changer for us.”
“It seems like all the five offensive rebounds she got were at key moments,” said head coach James Wade on the play of Stevens. “Azura just took it to another level, she had all the offensive rebounds in the second half. They were clutch, they were key, she made good decisions, she ran the floor, she enforced her will and that’s what we needed from her.”
Minnesota decided to play the fouling game late in the fourth however, it wasn’t enough as Chicago claimed the win-or-go-home victory, 89-76.
The Sky will now play the No. 1 seed Connecticut Sun on Tuesday, Sept. 28 at 8 p.m. EDT on ESPN 2. On the other side of the bracket, Las Vegas will host Phoneix in Game 1 at 10 p.m. EDT also on ESPN 2.
Managing Editor of The Ball Out.