Candace Parker made her long-awaited debut at Wintrust Arena on Wednesday night in the Sky’s 92-76 victory against the Indiana Fever which snapped a seven-game losing streak.
Parker made an impact immediately, grabbing a defensive rebound and finding Kahleah Copper in transition for an easy lay-up in the opening seconds. Parker, who finished with three points, five rebounds and two assists, was limited to less than 20 minutes by coach and general manager James Wade, but the mental impact she had on the team was more significant than any stat line. Wade said having Parker back on the court provided the team an instant sense of calm and a boost of energy.
“I rehabbed my ass off for the last three weeks to be back on the court,” Parker said. “I’m just happy to be back out there playing basketball.”
Courtney Vandersloot (17 points) led a group of five Sky players with double-digit scoring. The team shot 45.1%.
The Sky enter the game with the worst field-goal percentage in the league. Wade stressed the need to simplify the offense to get back to last years first-place form. He took out 60% of the playbook, most of it walk-up sets. He said the complex playbook created overthinking.
Containing the Fever’s guards and slowing down their attack in transition was critical, but the Sky had no answer for Kelsey Mitchell. She finished with a game-high 24 points on 9 of 18 shooting.
Limiting Teaira McCowan’s catches in the paint was another focus defensively, and the Sky were able to hold her to nine points. Still, the Sky’s issue with late-game breakdowns persisted. Their 12-point lead at the half was cut to as few as four in the third quarter.
“A lot of it had to do with our focus on the ball,” Wade said. “We were trying to jump into schemes before we had the ball controlled. We have to make sure the ball is contained before we start thinking about schemes.”
With four minutes left in the game, Tiffany Mitchell fouled Diamond DeShields who fell hard on the right side of her body. On the floor she appeared to say “It’s my back.” She was helped off the court by trainers. Wade said she was a little sore but was doing fine.
DeShields finished with nine points, five rebounds, five assists and two steals. Coming into the season she said she wanted to be known more as a playmaker than a scorer. She played a complete game Wednesday.
The Sky’s bench came up huge. Azura Stevens (12 points) and Allie Quigley (10 points) were key contributors, while rookie guard Dana Evans finished with nine points off the bench.
Vandersloot, who added nine assists and two steals to her 17 points, said Evans’ style of play fits well with the Sky. She has been most impressed by Evans’ ability to show up in the middle of a losing streak and immediately contribute.
The game was the Sky’s first Commissioners Cup game since their 90-83 loss to the Atlanta Dream on May 25th. Five of their next eight games count towards their Cup standings.
Next up, the Sky play the Fever on the road at noon Saturday.
“What’s crazy is we still have so much more that we can do,” Parker said.