LAS VEGAS — The Sky had the ball with a two-point lead and were 13 seconds away from advancing to the WNBA semifinals for the first time since 2016.
Courtney Vandersloot dribbled around Aces defenders but struggled to make the read. She lobbed a pass to Diamond DeShields that was intercepted by Dearica Hamby. Hamby dribbled near the sideline, past Vandersloot, before putting up a three-pointer.
The shot went in, and the Aces took a one-point lead with five seconds left.
On the ensuing possession, DeShields tried to drive to the basket, but the Aces’ pressure was too much again. Astou Ndour ultimately missed what could have been the game-winning three. The Aces held on for a 93-92 victory to eliminate the Sky and advance to the semifinals, where they’ll face the Mystics.
After the game, the Sky chose not to make Vandersloot available. Meanwhile, coach James Wade was adamant that Hamby’s shot shouldn’t have counted.
“She stepped out of bounds,” Wade said. “The last possession, before she scored, she stepped out of bounds.”
In reality, the game shouldn’t have come down to the wire as it did. The Sky squandered several double-digit leads, including a 14-point lead in the second quarter and a 10-point lead in the third. They also held Aces stars Liz Cambage and A’ja Wilson to a combined three points in the first quarter, though the two All-Star bigs ultimately found a way to penetrate the Sky’s defense.
It also didn’t help that the Sky’s best shooter, Allie Quigley, shot 0-for-6 from three-point range and scored only six points.
“It hurts losing to a team like that,” said a teary-eyed DeShields, who scored a team-high 23 points. “We had a lot more to give.”
Kahleah Copper, who was clutch off the bench and tied a season high with 16 points, comforted DeShields through the brief postgame news conference by placing her hand on the All-Star’s shoulder.
“It wasn’t a good feeling coming to the locker room knowing that you gave it your all and not to come out the way you wanted it,” Copper said. “[Wade] came, and he picked us up. We were down. It’s tough, it’s really sensitive.”
Though the ending will sting for a while, the Sky have a lot to look forward to after their turnaround season from lottery team to playoff team.
DeShields took the step forward the team had hoped for and became a key part of the offense. Vandersloot continued to be the team’s heartbeat and set records for assists. Ndour, who scored 17 points, had a breakthrough after Jantel Lavender went down with a foot injury.
But this still will be a busy offseason for Wade. Six players — including Vandersloot, Quigley and Stefanie Dolson — are on expiring contracts.
Wade is proud of what his team has accomplished, but he hasn’t taken time to reflect on it. It’s too hard after a season cut shorter than anticipated.
“It’s very painful, but for somebody like me personally, I really hope this pain doesn’t go away,” Wade said.