The Sky’s 100-86 loss to the Mystics in their regular-season finale Sunday was disappointing. But it was just one misstep in the grand scheme of a successful season overall.
Though there have been ups and downs, first-year coach James Wade made a case for why he deserves to be the WNBA coach of the year. He took an underachieving Sky team that won a combined 25 games over the last two seasons and transformed it into an up-tempo, disciplined and tough team that’s preparing for its first postseason appearance since 2016.
“I’m happy with where we are, but you’re never satisfied,” said Wade, who’s the only Sky coach to reach 20 wins in his first season. “We’re looking forward to the playoffs.”
Wade had little to say about the loss.
“I just thought we didn’t play well,” he said.
With a playoff seed to play for — the Sky had a potential first-round bye at stake — the team struggled on both ends of the court and couldn’t stop Elena Delle Donne, who had 25 points and 12 rebounds. It also didn’t help that the Sky — already down forward Jantel Lavender (foot injury) — were forced to play without Astou Ndour for the majority of the game after she was ejected in the second quarter for making what appeared to be accidental contact with an official.
Wade disputed the call before Ndour was escorted off the court by security with a towel over her head.
“If you know Astou, you know she’s nothing like that,” Wade said. “I thought it was a little premature, but the ref thought he had to do what he had to do.”
But none of that matters. The Sky (20-14) are locked in on the postseason. After finishing fifth in the playoff standings, they’re set to host the eighth-seeded Mercury on Wednesday at Wintrust Arena in a first-round, single-elimination game.
“We’re in the playoffs,” guard Kahleah Copper said. “We’re in a good place, and I think that we just take it one game at a time and we start focusing on what we need to focus on and correcting ourselves and we go from there.”
All the pieces are falling into place for the Sky to make a competitive run at the WNBA title. Diamond DeShields, who’s averaging a team-high 16.2 points, has taken a big leap in her second season. Allie Quigley, 33, has shown no signs of regression and leads the league in three-pointers. Copper and Cheyenne Parker have been staples of the Sky’s bench unit.
And then there’s Courtney Vandersloot, who runs the entire show. She has had the best season of her nine-year career. She’s averaging 11.5 points and 9.2 assists, and on Sunday she became the first WNBA player to surpass 300 assists in a season.
But now the Sky will turn their attention to the postseason. Though they’re facing the lowest-seeded team, they’ll have to be on their toes.
“We just need to come and play,” Wade said. “They’re a dangerous team, they’ve won the last two years in single elimination where they upset teams, so we just have to be ready for them.”