Last season, the playoffs were the Sky’s goal. This season, they were the expectation.
In a condensed season full of twists and turns, the Sky (11-7) met that expectation Tuesday night, clinching a postseason berth for the second consecutive year after the
Indiana Fever lost to the Atlanta Dream.
On Wednesday, the Sky lost 86-83 against the Lynx (12-5), who also clinched a playoff berth Tuesday night. The Storm, Sparks and Aces also have clinched.
In the game Wednesday, Allie Quigley scored 23 points to become the Sky’s all-time leading scorer (2,939 points), surpassing Sylvia Fowles (2,927). Cheyenne Parker finished with 20 points and a career-high 15 rebounds. Courtney Vandersloot, coming off a WNBA-record 18 assists, had 13 points and 12 assists for her 35th career double-double. Kahleah Copper added 10 points, which extended her double-digit scoring streak to 15 games.
The Sky have dealt with their fair share of adversity. After the WNBA had to postpone the start of the season for two months because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Sky lost forward Jantel Lavender in June because of season-ending foot surgery. Then, they dealt with injuries to Diamond DeShields, Stefanie Dolson, Parker and Azura Stevens.
Over the last week, the Sky have experienced a flurry of changes to their roster. Hours before the trade deadline last Friday, the Sky traded Lavender and draft picks to the Fever for forward Stephanie Mavunga. The next morning, DeShields (personal reasons) and Stevens (season-ending knee injury) left the bubble in Bradenton, Florida. The Sky on Monday signed free-agent forward Alisia Jenkins for extra frontcourt depth.
“It was a lot,” Dolson said. “One thing we all knew this season was going to do to us was keep us on our toes, so I think we all handled it pretty well. . . . Fortunately, it’s our job to kind of move on and focus on the next day and what’s our task, and I think everybody did it well. . . . We’re just ready to keep moving.”
With DeShields on restricted minutes from the get-go, coach James Wade put guard Kahleah Copper in the starting lineup, where she has flourished. In fact, Copper has made a convincing argument for the league’s Most Improved Player award.
Entering Wednesday’s game, Copper is averaging a team-high 15.7 points — up sharply from the 6.7 she averaged off the bench last season.
Gabby Williams and Parker also are putting up career-best numbers.
And then there’s Vandersloot, who has made herself a Most Valuable Player award candidate.
Vandersloot, who shattered the WNBA’s single-game assist record Monday dishing out 18 in a win against the Fever, is on pace to break the league’s single-season assist record — which she has set in each of the last three seasons — averaging a league-high 9.3 assists, entering Wednesday’s game. She’s also averaging a career-high 13.2 points on 48.3% shooting.
Despite all the challenges they’ve had to face, the Sky are in the midst of their secondbest season in franchise history.
Earning a playoff spot during this season-in-a-bubble means more because of what the Sky overcame to get here, Parker said.
But they’re not done yet, she added.
“It [is] a good challenge for us with everything that’s happened . . . over the course of the season, everything that we’ve been through as a unit,” Parker said Tuesday before the Sky clinched. “[Making the postseason] would mean a lot for us to come out and make a statement and to do what we came here to do and that’s to win a championship.”