On the opening play of the game Saturday, Candace Parker caught the ball at the top of the key from Courtney Vandersloot.
She squared up against her defender, Stefanie Dolson, before driving the lane for a layup that bounced off the rim and into the hands of Emma Meesseman on the weak side. Meesseman kicked it out to Kahleah Copper, who stood at the wing near their bench.
With a crystal clear look at the basket, Copper elevated from three-point range and let it fly — swish.
“Here we go,” was what Liberty coach Sandy Brondello said she thought while watching her team give up an offensive rebound and an open three to start the game.
The Sky had their own thoughts.
“She’s here, she’s ready, she’s good,” Vandersloot said.
James Wade’s team never relinquished the lead. The Sky won Game 2 of the first-round series 100-62, the largest margin of victory in WNBA postseason history, forcing a decisive Game 3 on Tuesday in New York.
Less than 24 hours earlier, Copper’s status was in question after she appeared to suffer a non-contact injury at the end of practice. She spent about 15 minutes in the trainer’s room before limping to the Sky’s locker room. Wade insisted that nothing happened despite a handful of media members witnessing her crumble to the floor. She was never listed on the team’s injury report, either.
By the end of the first quarter, Copper left no doubt she was more than fine. Her stifling defense led to easy transition buckets and contributed to the Sky’s 25 points off of 19 Liberty turnovers. Copper had 10 points in the first quarter and finished with a game-high 20 to go with three rebounds and three steals.
“She came out and let everybody know she’s still Copper,” Wade said.
As far as responding to their Game 1 loss, the Sky couldn’t have sent a stronger message.
Facing elimination on their home court, the reigning champs quickly buried the Liberty. After allowing them to shoot 44% from three in the series opener, a result of poor rotations and lax close-outs, the Sky were in constant motion on defense. They suffocated the Liberty, allowing just nine made field goals in the first half.
Seven Sky players had at least one steal. Vandersloot matched Copper with three and added 16 points, nine rebounds and four assists.
“We came into this game with a different mentality,” Vandersloot said. “We knew what got us through games during the regular season wasn’t going to work in the playoffs.”
Their mission to “Recrown Skytown” lives to see another day, but not without the wake-up call they were served by the Liberty in Game 1.
The Liberty were limited to 15% shooting from deep on Saturday. Copper guarded Sabrina Ionescu, as she has all year, and held her to seven points, five rebounds and three assists. Natasha Howard, who tied Ionescu with a game-high 22 points in Game 1, was held to eight.
Taking away the paint was a point of emphasis for Brondello’s team, but it failed to. The Sky outscored the Liberty 60-24 inside. Parker had 12 points, 12 rebounds, four assists and two blocks. Five Sky players finished scoring in double figures.
The Sky’s response was as much about avoiding elimination as it was about carrying the right mentality into Game 3.